A New Year’s Intention

I don’t know about you, but over the years I’ve grown to hate the very idea of a new year’s resolution. I think I’ve broken too many of them. Now, the fear of failure looms larger than any hoped-for gain. It’s not a happy frame of mind to have at the beginning of a new year.

Perhaps you feel the same way.

In the past, I’ve used brute force to push my way into new habits. I’ve forced myself out of bed, even when I’ve felt unwell. I’ve worked longer and harder, even when I felt tired. Initially, this may have won me some short-term gains, but it never seemed to last very long. When my energy inevitably flagged, I would return to all my old habits.

A turning point came a few years ago after I read The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal. In this book, she shares surprising research that self-compassion and self-forgiveness are much better motivators for changing our behaviour than guilt-tripping or condemnation. At first, I was skeptical that going “soft” on myself would reap any rewards, but I actually found it to be incredibly helpful.

It turns out that my self-destructive tendency to push myself way past my limits was a big part of my problem. I wasn’t able to see that until I finally gave myself permission to stop.

Since then, I’ve noticed how common a problem this is. In Western society, we’re terrified of being seen as lazy, slothful, or unproductive. The good old Protestant work ethic has turned us into slave-drivers, expecting more and more from ourselves and from others, for less and less remuneration. Yet, studies show that a culture that emphasizes kindness and empathy, avoidance of blame, and forgiveness of mistakes, reaps greater benefits for both individuals and groups over the long term.

Over the past couple of decades, I think our entire culture has become more corporatized, to the point that we treat ourselves like little mini-businesses, expecting year over year profits and gains. But I’m not a business, and neither are you. We shouldn’t have to prove our value to others. We have a right to exist, regardless of how much money we make, or what we produce.

This year, I encourage you to be a little softer on yourself, to treat yourself with a little more kindness. If you’re feeling tired or overwhelmed, it’s OK not to have a New Year’s resolution. If you didn’t make any particular gains over the past year, that’s OK too. It’s OK if all you did was survive.

You have a right to be here, no less than the trees and the stars. You have unique gifts that are yours and yours alone. Your very presence on this earth is a gift and a blessing. This year, rather than setting a New Year’s resolution, how about setting a New Year’s intention instead? Give yourself permission to be kind.

About the Author: Rebecca Wong has a BA in English Literature from the University of Waterloo and has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She studied at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine under respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le, and graduated from the East West School of Planetary Herbology under Michael Tierra. She received training as a yoga teacher at The Branches in Kitchener/Waterloo, and therapeutic yoga teacher training from the School for Somatic Soulwork under Deniz Aydoslu. She now teaches yoga for anxiety, depression and burnout at Rebecca's Restful Yoga Studio in Toronto.

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