At this time of year many of us have fought with ourselves about whether to set New Year’s resolutions. Statistics show that of the millions of resolutions made, 80% will end in failure. Mostly, this will be due to unrealistic expectations; we unwittingly set ourselves up for failure.
In 2008 I pledged to make the year “better than the previous year” as 2007 had been a disaster, suffering from mental illness I’d been in and out of hospital with relationships and job prospects falling along the way. So, I thought the resolution couldn’t go wrong, things couldn’t get worse! Unfortunately 2008 was worse, I will not go into details but I was very unwell and not getting the support I needed. Since I’d obviously failed what I thought was a very simple new year’s resolution, come the eve of 2009 I wasn’t celebrating, nor did I think there was any point in looking forward to a “better year”, that hadn’t worked last year! As the New Year chimed in, I was in yet another hospital receiving treatment for a near fatal overdose. A few days into the New Year I reflected on the past few days and realised how powerfully unhelpful the sense of failure is, my belief that I was failing at life made me give up. I decided to turn things around – I did not make a new year’s resolution I couldn’t measure or one that I had limited control over. Instead, what I pledged was “I’ll take each day as it comes and manage as best I can”, with a couple of important additions “I will not beat myself up”, “I’ll notice the positives” and “I’ll put some faith in God”. When it comes to mental health, thoughts/feeling/circumstances are a bit complicated, some things you can control and others you can’t. I learnt:
- There are good and bad days, both varieties come and go
- Bad things happen, they are not always my fault, I do not need to beat myself up and start down a guilty spiral, I can just chalk things up to experience and move on
- Something positive happens every day, you just have to look for it
- Fully relying on God can be a relief, he does answer prayer and he’s always available (you don’t have to call, text or wait for him to be free!)
The bible tells us: “Do not remember the past events, pay no attention to things of old. Look, I am about to do something new… I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18-19. This says to me do not compare last year with this; look forward, God will guide, even when lost in the wilderness, there will be a way forward, even when thirsty the desert, there will be water.
So this year, what will it be? Most people set a traditional one along the lines of giving up smoking, losing weight or to do more exercise. These are all admirable and I praise anyone who wants to be healthier. I’m posting this blog mid-January because many people will be struggling with their resolutions and I wonder, is there something more fundamental that needs healing? Do you need to improve your self-esteem? Do you need to lead a calmer life? Do you generally need to be kinder to yourself? How about one of these:
- Start a positive/thankful/gratitude/praise diary. Each day write one positive thing or something you’re thankful for. My first diary, I started in the depths of depression, my first day I wrote “Minaise smiled at me” – she was a nurse in hospital who had hope in me even when I didn’t; this proved to me that positive things happen even when it doesn’t feel like it. Since that first day I have filled many diaries. Truly miraculous things happen every day; you just have to notice them!
- Put a notice somewhere you will see it every day (maybe by your bed) saying “I am loved” – read it twice every day, make it part of your routine, eventually you will believe it!
- Make time for yourself. Soothe yourself for 10 minutes per day. For some this may be stroking the cat, listening to music, a warm shower, colouring, a short walk or maybe some prayer time; anything that calms your mind and body. Perhaps try downloading the Headspace app or download some self help.
- Tell someone every day that you love them. Ask someone to make it their resolution to say they love you every day.
- Laugh every day – even if you have to type “funny cats” into YouTube, it’s well worth it!
- Learn and practice mindfulness
- Stop caring what other people think…some of us are paralysed by fear of judgement from other people. Instead, whenever you feel judged or put down, tell yourself “God loves me just the way I am”.
- Whenever possible, accept help and help others. Life is about relationships, we do not have to do anything alone. I am fiercely independent, it’s in the nature, but when I let other people in my life is enriched beyond what I can imagine.
Just pick 1 or 2, do not set yourself up to “fail”. If you do not manage your resolution every day, tell yourself “it’s ok” and try again the next day. If by the end of January you’ve lost momentum, try something else in February, then something else in March etc. Let me know what’s working for you by commenting below 🙂