It’s the start of a new year again, and here we are in January. Some of us may be looking back at the last year, reflecting upon our lives, and some of us are eager, already looking ahead with plans or resolutions.
January, after all, is named after the two-faced god Janus by Julius Caesar – with one face he looks behind over his shoulder, and with the other he looks forward. This way we can look ahead, bearing in mind mistakes from the past and, therefore, make the ever-lasting, hope-bearing resolutions.
Resolutions are wonderful gifts, full of hopefulness, a chance to start afresh, put the past behind us, forgive ourselves, forgive or forget others and so on. They promise a shiny new life.
So, whatever happened last year, we give ourselves the chance to have a happy new year. And for that happiness to stick, we, in the west, decide to make changes, usually in the form of resolutions.
The only problem with resolutions is that, come February, a staggering 85% of us have fallen off the wagon, stopped going to the gym, started back on the smokes, and are eating that extra chocolate we gave up.
Why are we (so many of us, me included!) so flim-flam? Is it that we lack willpower?
Psychologists and neuroscientists have numerous explanations for our failures:
- that will-power is not even a thing (this will be covered in another article!).
- that changing our behaviour without actually changing our desires is not possible.
- that we are more likely to follow the behaviours of those around us (we are social animals).
- that we try to change too much, too fast, for the brain to adjust.
It’s not an impossible task, but resolutions have to be set much more thoughtfully and with a bit of neuroscientific insight in order for us to stick by them.
To keep a resolution, a neuro-pathway, like a muscle, has to be built, and we have to want that behaviour or, at least, learn to want it. We have to build resilience, and we have to take small steps, as well as establish a social group who make the same commitment alongside us.
And so, after having failed at so many resolutions, we become jaded and decide that the resolutions themselves are a sham, a trickery, a thing which ‘they’ out there make us do.
We give up on making futile resolutions and sometimes, sadly, we even give up on the hope that the new year can bring.
There is another way to start the new year, without going through this annual charade, which just chips away at our worn-out self-esteem and our hopefulness.
There is another way, which is accessible, possible, brings hope and can also pave the way for change.
What if we decide to focus on being more of ourselves? This is the opposite of resolutions, which are often more than just aspirational, and often tinged with wanting to be someone else.
What if we focus on noticing the shine within us? What if we focus on what we already are?
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”
– From Nelson Mandela’s 1994 inaugural speech, written by Marianne Williamson
If we face our lightness, if we face the beauty that already lies within and around us, if we become more of who we actually are, and if we love what already is, we are holding hope right there in our hands.
I am not for a minute suggesting that you start down a narcissistic path of self-adulation. Psychological research has already shown that an era of selfies is more than likely the culprit for increased self-obsession and reduced empathy.
I am suggesting that you really take a look at who you are, and be who you are for real. This may seem effortless, but are you really yourself, and what makes you, you?
Try an experiment
Set an alarm for one minute. All you need is to stand in front of a mirror, big enough for you to look at your face and shoulders. Now, just look at yourself. Look at yourself, as if you are looking at someone else. Look at yourself with curiosity, look at the whole of your head, your face. Now, see if you can see the person there looking back at you? Notice what you feel and think. Now, ask yourself – whilst still looking in the mirror – who am I?
This exercise is more confronting than one may imagine. This is an exercise you can practice every now and then. Most often, we are busy doing, achieving, thinking, pleasing, impressing, reacting … we are not ourselves. We can be ourselves more and, when we are, we are at our best.
We can be ourselves more by:
- Knowing yourself. Start noting what makes your heart sing, note your favourite things, notice who you really are drawn to, what you are drawn to, and more. Watch yourself as if you are outside of yourself. Notice the different parts or aspects of you.
- Notice your self-talk. Make a note of how you talk to yourself, the words you use, the sincerity or the criticism behind them. You may not notice you have an internal dialogue at first – just pay attention to how you define yourself. Perhaps you say things like, ‘I’ve always been shy’, ‘I can’t do that’, ‘I’m a lazy person’. Is this self-talk truly reflective of who you are, or are things others have told you that you have come to believe? Are you really this person?
- Focus on your strengths. If it’s hard to find these, think about the good things others say about you. Your strengths are not always reflective of who you are. Look deep and peel away layers. For example, we may notice a strength is being extremely thoughtful of others’ needs. And this could be reflective of a very empathic nature or it could be reflective of a person who needs to please others.
- Let go of past mistakes and past hurts. Reflecting on the past can mean we aren’t being ourselves. If we are reenacting the past in our minds, we are limiting ourselves to being the person who made that mistake, and not accepting that we can be more than that.
- Care less about fitting in. Of course, we need social groups where we share values, but we mustn’t become slaves to what others want us to be or, more accurately, what we imagine others want us to be.
- Be open to growth. We do need to be ourselves, but we also need to be open to change, in order to be wiser, to be more able to be our best.
- Face your fears. We are often driven to do things to make ourselves feel safe, to make ourselves feel good, to make ourselves feel better than others. This isn’t being yourself. Be honest about your vulnerabilities and be yourself, not what makes you comfortable.
- Do what you love. Notice what you truly love, where your passions lie and practice those activities. If you find it difficult to identify what these are, write a journal where you might pay attention to noting what you like.
- Try new things. You will discover more about yourself as you try new things and step out of your safety net.
- Be part of a community. Spend time with people who choose to be with you, not just people who want to be with somebody to allay their loneliness.
This long list may seem more onerous than one new resolution, but these behaviours are more sustainable and achievable because none of these will require creating a new you. Make 2023 about being you, the best you. Happy new year!
Farah Naz is a UK trained Psychotherapist of more than 30 years, and is a Clinical Hypnotherapist, with a special interest in neuroscience. She has worked with thousands of people globally for a range of issues. Farah has trained national organisations, corporate companies, doctors, teachers and health workers on psychological-related issues. Currently, she has an online international practice and a private practice in the Algarve.
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