The New Year marks the beginning of a fresh start for many. A new beginning!
As we step into a new month, affirmations of wishes and promises for a brighter future jump to the forefront as we say farewell to the current year. It is tradition in my family to spend time going around the dinner table taking turns sharing our personal dreams and wishes for the upcoming year. Even though everybody tries to delve deep and find something meaningful while being truthful and honest at the same time, the promises we make to ourselves often end up unfulfilled and forgotten – at least that is what I have experienced in the past.
The Ongoing Commitment to our New Year’s Resolutions
Approximately 41% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and out of those only 44.8% follow through with their commitments after six months. In 2007, a British study from the University of Bristol found that 88% of people who make New Year’s resolutions fail – while the NHS reckon only one in ten of us will be successful. Out of those surveyed, 43% of Brits lasted less than a month, and 66% made it one month or less. 80% of people didn’t make it to the end of March before going back to their old ways. It is apparent that the enthusiasm in which we make our promises for the New Year are rapidly decreasing from our lives. In Denmark, only one out of four people make a conscious effort toward changing something in the New Year, so it appears that we are all slipping into the same trend. It is quite possible that the abundance of social media in our day and age results in the tendency to keep the “weakest” aspects of our lives to ourselves. Perhaps it is the personal imperfections that we leave up to ourselves to resolve.
To me, New Year’s Eve has become a great opportunity to stop and reflect on how life has been going up until then. Although this can be exercised at any point in time – and I often try to do so more frequently – I enjoy the tradition of reflecting and feeling connected to myself and others during this special tradition. Looking back, for many years my New Year’s wishes consisted of things about myself I wanted to change, or where I fell short, both of which were rooted in a lack of acceptance of myself. I was convinced that applying a few “simple” changes to myself and my life would result in an overall happier feeling.
Held Back by the Mindset of “Never Good Enough”
More often than not, the resolutions we make at the start of a New Year are accompanied by an underlying tone that something is not good enough. We make the decision to try to lose weight, quit smoking, love more deeply, spend more time with family and close friends, get in shape, reverse bad feelings in old relationships, become better parents and the like. We try our very best to put these desires into words, while we assume we are not doing it the right way already. There’s nothing wrong with that – it is necessary to have hopes and dreams and something to strive for. Having the strength to change your life for the better is admirable, but there is still something unsettling about this kind of mindset. Why do we struggle to feel good enough just the way we are? Why do we make promises to ourselves when we fail to be dedicated enough to fulfilling them? When I recall my own experiences, there were often times I didn’t even try my hardest, and it became just that: a far off wish instead of something I really wanted to put an effort towards. As a result, my words and wishes for change ended up feeling empty.
It is almost like beneath our New Year’s promises there is something written in invisible ink. Other stories or assumptions – a narrative about not being worth our own weight at all. It is a negative pattern, I think, which often is rooted in a belief that we don’t accept or value the way we handle life’s peaks and valleys. As a result, in the end it only brings us down. After coming to this realization, I decided to change my mindset.
“It is almost like beneath our New Year’s promises there is something written in invisible ink. Other stories or assumptions – a narrative about not being worth our own weight at all. It is a negative pattern, I think, which often is rooted in a belief that we don’t accept or value the way we handle life’s peaks and valleys.”
I want to challenge myself to view the year through a lens of love opposed to one of criticism. I stand firmly in my belief in the gift of being kind to ourselves and everybody around us. I think it is so important that we allow ourselves to be wrong, embrace our failures and our imperfections while still feeling good enough to accept our bodies, thoughts, souls and spirits. I believe self-love is the greatest gift we can give ourselves. I believe in practicing life with compassion, courage and with empathy towards yourself and others. We cannot really love and spread love around the world if we don’t feel good about who we are as individuals, first.
Therefore, my New Year’s resolution some years ago was to start accepting myself truly and find peace in being me. A calmness that wouldn’t overthrow me every time I was struck by a feeling of inadequacy. I was tired of chasing after things that were unachievable and not genuine; focusing on all the reasons I was falling short. It was time for me to fully embrace myself, including my imperfections, and to treasure the gift of life. Time to show gratitude towards my loved ones just the way they were, and let go of the school of thought that the only way to gain acceptance is through change.
Loving ourselves is a great start, but can be easier said than done. In today’s society, I think the pressure for perfection (whatever that may mean), receiving trophies, or finding our worth through superficial places (i.e. social media) – have a tendency to push us to our limits a lot of the time. Striving for unattainable expectations causes more depression and anxiety than good. We all need to find a place within where we feel okay with ourselves. A place where we will allow ourselves to grow instead of continuing to feel as if we fail to measure up.
This may be a Danish approach, however loving ourselves the way we are, and acknowledging this is foundational to my thinking. When we do something out of love, we don’t need to automatically wonder how we could have done it better. Instead, our wishes will arise from a place deep inside us where we are filled with acceptance and love for ourselves rather than a place where we feel insufficient. It is the power of love that motivates us, instead of the critical belief that we need to change. It is about choosing the reality over the artificial. It is about choosing love over criticism. It is about finding a place inside us where we feel okay with ourselves, including the parts we are not necessarily proud of. After all, it is the imperfections that make us human, and that is where we can meet each other in a deep and authentic connection. This connection is exactly what the world needs.
I love New Year’s Eve because it is a time set aside to reflect, to own my own story and be proud of who I am. This year I told myself that I would be better at being me, a resolution that feels good.
Happy New Year!
Iben Sandahl is the best-selling author of The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids and Play The Danish Way – A Guide to Raising Balanced, Resilient and Healthy Children through Play. She is a Danish parenting expert, narrative psychotherapist MPF, teacher and speaker. She is also a regular contributor to Psychology Today. She has more than 20 years of experienced insight into child psychology and education, which in a most natural way anchor the Danish way of practicing parenthood. Her book is translated into 18 languages. You can visit Iben’s Facebook page or follow her on Instagram for more inspiration about parenting.