With the beginning of February comes a question that most probably don’t want asked: how about those resolutions?
Remember those things you promised yourself you’d do? How did you go? Don’t worry – if you didn’t make a lasting change, you’re not alone. We all make resolutions we don’t keep. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We can make a lasting change by doing something very important: connecting with our values.
Giving up on New Year’s Resolutions
I used to set a resolution each year. There was always something I wanted to change, some perceived deficit or flaw.
This is it. This is the year I quit drinking once and for all.
Unsurprisingly that one never eventuated. Neither did any of the others. Any year. For my whole life.
Over time however, my attitude towards New Year’s resolutions (and towards drinking) changed. What are resolutions really? They are goals, first and foremost. I want to achieve this. Great! But why? What is it about that resolution or goal that you truly value?
For me, what I value has begun to take precedence.
How to ACT
Have the goal of reducing drinking? Ok, what does that take? It takes courage, dedication, and wanting to live a healthier life. That’s a better place to start, because you can focus on the inside rather than the outside.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (or ACT for short) has a lot to say about goals and values, and the difference between the two. Russ Harris, one of ACT’s biggest proponents, has a whole host of videos on YouTube that are really worth watching (find his channel here).
His book, The Happiness Trap, literally changed my life. It changed how I viewed goals, and what is important to me. I can very strongly recommend reading it. It helped me to clarify where I want to go in life, and has helped instill the strength to make decisions around what is and isn’t worth suffering for.
The Difference Between Goals and Values
In a nutshell, according to ACT, values are the characteristics or traits that we desire to live by; the things we want to show the world and say ‘this is who I am.’ Values make up a meaningful life, and it’s important to know where your values lie. Just as a primer, some of my core values include creativity, curiosity, love of learning, and connection with others.
There are plenty of ACT-based values exercises online, and I often use them with my clients. You can find a fantastic one here.
All that being said, goals are still very important. It is always helpful to have a goal to work towards. But often we forget to ask why we are heading in that direction at all.
What does a goal you have mean to you? Why do you pursue it? The answer might seem obvious. You might be sitting there reading this saying duh, of course it’s because of this reason. But think for a second about that reason and ask yourself why that reason in particular is important to you. What does it say about you? Is it in line with who you want to be? Or is there an element of living someone else’s values? Are you being true to yourself? What else could you be doing if not that?
That kind of reflection can be the key to unlocking what you truly value, and in becoming the person you really are inside.
A New Year’s Resolution To Keep
I believe the reason we don’t keep our resolutions for the New Year is because of one of two factors, or perhaps a combination of the two. Firstly, we set the bar too high for ourselves. We set a fuzzy goal, or aim somewhere out of our reach. Secondly, we don’t give enough thought and planning to what values lie behind making the decision to pursue that goal in the first place.
Remember to ask yourself – why am I doing this? Why do I want this? Why is it important to me?
Also, don’t forget – you can make a change any time of the year. New Year’s is but another day on a year-long calendar. You can do it – it just takes tapping in to what you truly value.
(And a solid plan!)
Stephen is a budding counsellor, avid craft beer enthusiast, and part-time Buddhist. He enjoys hiking, connecting with nature, losing himself in deep conversation, and contributing to the Conscious Beginnings blog.