Refocusing Resolutions on Self-Love

I love New Year's Resolutions. I love the idea of a fresh start, of giving yourself a quick refresh halfway through the academic calendar. It reminds me that life is a constant state of trial and error - and January first is prime time for a new phase of "trial" to start.I always make resolutions, ranging from big to small. No, they don't always stick - though one year I went an entire 12 months without honking at anybody on the road, and living in the DC metro area that is is no small feat. 

But this year, I had trouble with my resolutions. How do you make resolutions when you spent most of the past year hating yourself?

I struggle with major depressive disorder and anxiety, and the last year has been particularly hard as my anxiety has stretched into my professional life, social life, academic performance, and especially my self-confidence in my physical appearance. After a year of tumultuous changes and eating habits that have come increasingly closer to disorder, I realized that most resolutions focus on a negative aspect of yourself. Is that inherently bad? No, but when you're already struggling with self-esteem, putting your worst characteristics on a billboard feels strife with self-hate.

In my depressed and anxious mind lives a vicious translator:

Workout more / eat healthier = you're fat, get rid of it.

Sleep more = why do you have insomnia? Fix it.

Study more = you're just lazy, get over it.

Is there a way to partake of the resolution tradition without perpetuating an internal dialogue of hatred? What would a radically gentler approach to resolutions look like?

There are things I want to focus on changing, but I am making an active effort to frame them in terms of self-love and growth rather than changing a perceived flaw in myself.

What does this translation look like for me?

1) Old: Take better care of yourself

New: Floss everyday.

Yeah, this one is also a *strong* suggestion from my dentist, but it means more than just good dental hygiene. When you're in the middle of a 50+ hour work week with looming school deadlines and a suspicious smell emanating from your kitchen, the spa+massage idea of self-care is laughable. Flossing is one small, tangible thing I can do every day that is simply good for myself. Do I love it? No, actually, I hate it - I'm a five-year-old when it comes to dental hygiene (why don't they make that bubble-gum flavored toothpaste for adults??). But maybe, just maybe, when I feel like my absolute worst, I can spare two minutes a day to invest in a more hopeful future for myself. 

2) Old: Get your anxiety under control.

New: #SelfcareSundays.

Stop being anxious? Yeah, totally useful goal for an anxious person. Not. Instead of that  lofty, entirely unrealistic goal, I'm starting small. Like, literally one hour a week. When I am in a slightly healthier state of mind and have a bit more time on my hands, I am making an effort to carve out time on Sundays to prepare for the week ahead. I tend to get the Sunday Scaries - I start stressing out about work and next thing I know I've completely wasted my Sunday in a state of anxiety. Instead, I'm going to dedicate time to taking a bath, painting my nails, or going to church - just one or two hours to be in the moment, not thinking about tomorrow's deadlines or next week's bills. 

3) Old: Eat healthier (always a cover for "lose weight").

New: Eat guilt-free. 

I've spent the past two years bouncing between restrictive dieting and binge-eating, and the primary result I've seen is not washboard abs but a dreadful sense of guilt every time I think about food. This year, I'm trying something new. I'm aiming to make the majority of my meals vegetable-based with the help of Hungryroot. Can I afford it? Not really, but if there's anything I've learned in the past year it's that if it's not easier to grab than the nearest burger, I'm not eating it. But on top of a generally healthy eating habit, I'm going to enjoy greasy bar food on the weekends, I'm going to eat the freaking donuts that keep popping up in my office lunchroom, and I'm not going to feel bad about liking food.

4) Old: Better work-life balance.

New: Leave work at work.

I feel like everyone is constantly chasing this ideal of "work-life balance." What does that mean? Heck if I know. Before Christmas, I overworked myself to the point of being almost constantly sick for two months, including about two weeks with the flu (I was "too busy" to get the flu shot last semester...). Yeah, that's not sustainable. But neither is declaring that I'll never work overtime or worry about my workday at weird times (does anyone else plan out their meeting agendas in the morning shower? Nah, me neither...) I know there are times when I'll be working very long hours, but my therapist has helped me realize that checking my email 20 times every evening and every lunch break is less a sign of dedication and more an anxious tick, an attempt to feel in control. This year, I'm embracing the idea that the majority of matters can wait til tomorrow or until after lunch - but if I slip, I'm not going to berate myself. I'm going to try again the next day.

 

Four resolutions. They're small, yet I know it will take me all twelve months and plenty of willpower to attempt them. And you know what? I feel good about this year.

 

What are your self-love resolutions? 

 In conclusion, here's my pup, who seems to love me despite my worst. 

In conclusion, here's my pup, who seems to love me despite my worst.