Insight
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The beginning of a new calendar year can hold new hope and the potential for change. It can give the feeling of a fresh start and the opportunity to leave that which has not served you behind. All of this can be helpful, even empowering and yet some of the messaging you may see in marketing can also be toxic or shaming. ‘New Year, New You’ is one example I particularly dislike – as the implication seems to be you must change completely into a new person to feel good or be more acceptable.

Each January, we can be encouraged to consider our ‘New Year’s resolutions’. This is so embedded in Western culture, I’ve found it can come up often in conversation and is widespread across social media. When I looked up the meaning of ‘resolution’, the Cambridge Dictionary (2023, emphasis added) offers that it can be ‘a promise to yourself to do or to not do something’. Collins Dictionary (2023, emphasis added) offers other various definitions – ‘if you make a resolution, you decide to try very hard to do something’ and ‘the resolution of a problem or difficulty is the final solving of it’. This all sounds like a lot of pressure, effortful and absolute.

The Toxicity of Resolutions

You may find New Year’s resolutions helpful as a reset or giving you some structure for change, BUT depending on how you go about these, they can also be a reminder of what hasn’t been achieved, how far you are from your goals, and make you feel like you’ve let yourself down. This can cause feelings of shame, self-resentment and for you to persecute yourself for the high expectations you haven’t met. There can be a big focus here on what you are not, rather than a celebration of what you uniquely are, right in this moment. This can be harmful to your mental health, increasing stress and anxiety, and impacting self-esteem.

Adding on to this, often who we feel we should be or should strive to be, can be based on messages we have internalised based on what society, our parents, peers, colleagues, partners and/or friends have expressed or shown make us more 'acceptable'. According to the person-centred approach to counselling, these messages can cause us to develop ‘conditions of worth’ (Rogers, 1951) and to live our lives striving towards meeting these standards others have set, in order for them to perceive us in a positive way. What this can do is move us away from who we innately are, what we want within our lives and to live life on other people’s terms, compromising our own wants and needs. This is particularly relevant to New Year’s resolutions as these can often be based on what society and others prize, rather than what we, ourselves, find important or enjoy within our lives. Consider body-image pressures (‘it’s preferable to be muscular or thin’), relationship pressures (‘getting married is the ultimate goal’), or pressures to be 'successful' (‘accumulating wealth equals success’).

Evolution vs. Resolution

So, with all this in mind, how about considering a NEW YEAR’S EVOLUTION? Carl Rogers’ (founder of the person-centred approach to counselling) suggested that we all have an innate motivation towards growth and enhancing ourselves – therefore, according to him, we are in a constant process of evolution (1951).

Focusing on evolving is perhaps more fluid and changeable (and nicely rhymes with resolution too!). It’s a focus on developing on what you already have, rather overhauling it. Shifting your focus towards acknowledging what you have right here in this moment can promote self-compassion and appreciation. Considering what you might develop can also move you towards thinking about your potential and a growth mindset, rather than focusing on what you’re lacking. I’ve personally found this approach to feel more self-supportive, gentle and nourishing.

Imagine you have a plant that you wish to bloom and grow. In order to support this process, you might do a little research and then respond to its uniqueness. You might use soil that is best for it, change the frequency that you water it, use fertiliser or attend to specific pests that might be impacting its growth. This is similar to the process of evolving yourself – in this we reflect on what we can adjust within our environmental conditions, what we respond to and enjoy, what is not helpful to us, and make adjustments to develop further how growthful this is for us.

In all of this, based on what we looked at around ‘conditions of worth’, it can be helpful to also reflect on whether what you wish to evolve and develop is based on your own desires, beliefs and wishes, or whether it is based on beliefs that have come from somewhere else, outside of you. This presents an opportunity to actively connect with yourself and your needs. I wonder how often you do this?

If you’d like to, you can undertake the exercise below to help you reflect on what has been discussed.

Reflective Exercise

As with any creative exercise, this may bring up some unexpected realisations and responses. You are in control as you undertake this and if you feel uncomfortable, you’re able to stop at any point.

For this exercise you will need a sheet of paper, and any materials to write with – you may wish to use different coloured pencils, pens or crayons. Alternatively, rather than writing lists, you could make a collage with images you find online or in magazines.

If you can, sit in a space or chair in which you feel comfortable and place your feet on the floor. Shut your eyes or look a few feet in front of you and take a few deep breaths in and out. Notice the feeling of the air as it enters your body, and as it is released out. Do this a few times. Now, feel the connection with the floor through your feet, as you feel yourself in this space and moment. You may wish to wiggle your toes or rock the balls of your feet. Give yourself this moment, just for yourself.

When you’re ready open your eyes, take a sheet of paper and make three columns.

In column one, write the title ‘Celebrating 2023’. Make a list or collage of everything you have appreciated about the past year. Try not to overthink this, and allow whatever comes out on the page to be expressed.

When you have done this, in column two, write the title ‘Evolving in 2024’ and for each item on your previous list, write down how you could develop this further in the next year. Try not to be overly specific, and more just capture overall intentions. This is about evolving what you have just recognised further.

Now, in column three, write the title ‘Letting Go in 2024’ and make a list of everything you’d like to release or let go of from 2023. This is about identifying what you want less of as you move into 2024.

Finally, take a look at what you’ve created and reflect on it. You could do this, for example, through writing about your experience or taking a walk to think about it.

  • What did you already know in these lists?
  • Are there any surprises?
  • Do you notice anything that might be based on beliefs from elsewhere, rather than what you actually feel in yourself?
  • What feels possible and achievable for you, and what is one first step you can take?


Looking after your reflections

If you wish to keep what you've created you could put this somewhere visible to help you keep in contact with yourself in 2024, though your needs, wants and desires may change day to day, and moment to moment. If your reflections feel private, I encourage you to keep them somewhere secure. If don't want to keep them, you can dispose of them. I highlight this because when we undertake reflective or creative exercises, considering what we do with our reflections can keep these confidential to us, which like counselling, can offer us the safety to continue exploring ourselves.


Looking ahead to 2024 with compassion

As you move forwards, rather than trying to make a ‘new you’, perhaps focus on embracing and accepting yourself as you are - looking at how you’d like to evolve means you are looking at any changes in your life with self-love and self-compassion. You can undertake similar reflections frequently – this is certainly not a one-time moment at the beginning of each year. The more you reflect, the more you may be able to mindfully get in touch with your own needs, wants and desires, and to live your life on your own terms.

Ultimately, even changing focus to a 'New Year's Evolution' may not be for you right now if you feel as if you're just getting through things or if you're struggling in this moment. And that's OK too. There's no demand on you here for anything! That can be a need in itself - to not do anything right now.

I hope my ponderings and ideas have been insightful and helpful in some way, and I wish you a 2024 where you can honour and be kind to yourself. If you are finding that you’re facing challenges as we move into this new year and would like support, counselling can help with this. I welcome you to get in touch so we can work through this together.

References
Credits

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Hamilton Sargent is a BACP accredited person-centred pluralistic counsellor, having graduated from a 4 year degree level training programme. He also completed a specialist certificate in online and telephone counselling.

Hamilton offers face to face therapy in Clapham SW4, Chiswick W4, and online and telephone counselling for adults in the UK within his private practice. Alongside this he is an Academic Lecturer on the BSc (Hons) Person-Centered Pluralistic Counselling (Advanced Practitioner) programme at Metanoia Institute and is a published author.


Disclaimer: Please be aware that information and guidance around counselling may develop and change over time and may only be correct at the time of publication. I also cannot take responsibility for any independent resources mentioned and encourage you to do your own research if using any of these services.