I'm a new start kind of a gal at heart, a list making, project planning kind of person who has always loved the hopeful energy of the new year. I love hearing and reading what everyone wants to accomplish with this new year, from the One Word posts to the elaborate, numbered lists. I love the fact that we challenge ourselves, that we get a little reboot every January to start fresh. I love the idea of people sitting down and asking themselves how can I do better this year?
But sometimes, as I've gotten older and seen more years begin and end, I've started to wonder if these resolutions are turning into just another thing to add to the weight of guilt we carry. There is a difference between wanting to do more and feeling that you aren't enough, and sometimes I think I hear in the ubiquitous mentions of how previous years' resolutions were woefully unfinished the quiet little echo of maybe I will be enough this year.
Maybe that's not you, maybe that's not where you are. But that feeling of not being enough has driven more of my own New Year's resolutions than I would like to admit. Especially all those lose weight/get healthy/work out resolutions, and let me tell you I had one of those every single year until I gave up dieting a few years back.
A couple days ago, I read this article in the New York Times called "Our Absurd Fear of Fat." The article outlines a recent study showing that "all adults categorized as overweight and most of those categorized as obese have a lower mortality risk than so-called normal-weight individuals." This research, which comes from a review of almost a hundred large epidemiological studies that covered nearly three million people, goes quite a long way to unravel the good old myth that we all need to be skinny because it's fundamentally unhealthy to be "overweight."
Now, this is not the first time I've heard this kind of research. (If it is for you, you should check out the book Health at Every Size or start by reading through the excerpts on the website). But, even though this news was not exactly news to me, as I was reading it I couldn't help but think:
Because I finally understood something about the resolutions I had made for so many years. Whether or not they worked (because some years they did work), they were always grounded in this feeling that I was not enough. I was falling short, I was flawed, but if I tried hard enough then maybe I would be enough. Maybe that year I would finally measure up.
And the great thing about that article was that I was finally forced to admit that all the dieting frenzy, all the this-year-I'm-gonna-do-it! excitement, was not about being healthy. It was about wanting to be good enough, about believing that I had to count every single calorie that went into my mouth because if I didn't it meant that I was failing at this whole having a human body thing I'd been entrusted with. Because I had been told that my body was supposed to be skinny and if it wasn't, that was only because I wasn't trying hard enough.
It wasn't about being healthy and living longer. It was about being a people pleaser, about wanting people to like the way I looked.
The last time I made a New Year's resolution was when I decided to get off that hamster wheel. It's something I don't talk about much because I don't feel like much of a poster child in this area. No surprise (especially if you know anything about how dieting wrecks your metabolism), I gained weight once I stopped counting and measuring and being afraid to go to dinner parties because I didn't know how many grams of fat were in anything at the table. Though I'm working on it, I still haven't been able to shake the idea that I'm supposed to be thin, maybe not this generation's ideal of sunken cheek thin but at least the kind of thin that I have felt for much of my life that I am not. And since I don't feel like I'm the best ambassador for letting go of the thin ideal, I often keep my mouth closed about it.
But as I think about all the January gym frenzy, as I see articles with titles like "Ten Foods to Keep Your Resolution on Track" and ads that promise "30 Days to a New You! [results not guaranteed]," I can't help but wonder how many others are out there, feeling like I did for so many years. How many people are building their promise of a new year on the quicksand of I'm not good enough? It feels like sure salvation, promising to become someone better in the next year. But how easily we shatter when we start to burn out on our resolutions and the sinister whisper begins in our head, telling us we really aren't good enough, just like we always feared.
And maybe for you it's not "getting in shape." Maybe you've got that one all figured out, but for you it's conquering your Pinterest inspired ambitions or finally getting organized or paying off debt. It doesn't really matter what the monster is, just that it's built on the idea that you need to work your way to being good enough in that area.
See, it's invigorating to think that you will become someone new this year, that you will shed the old weaknesses that have been dogging you for years. It's less fun to wake up in March and realize you are still the same old not good enough person you were back in January. Confetti sure is fun to throw, but no one wants to be stuck picking it out of the carpet for the next two weeks. And I don't want to wake up in a few months, still picking the confetti of another botched resolution out of my hair.
So, if you're like me and you have a habit of thinking you are going to remake yourself this year, if you have that hard to quit habit of perfectionism or if you have gotten caught up in some unrealistic ideals that you could never reach no matter how far you twist and stretch and contort yourself, well then I have a suggestion. Maybe you could join me in making a kind of anti-resolution. Maybe you could decide that instead of trying to change the way you are, you will work on changing the way you think about the way you are.
Instead of trying to lose weight, you will work on seeing yourself as beautiful (or handsome, of course) right now, as you are. Instead of trying to become Martha Stewart, you will work on enjoying the home you have already made. Instead of learning a new skill, you will focus on appreciating and using the skills you already have. Instead of reading twenty books you are supposed to like, you will read books you already enjoy, happily and without judgement.
Spend a year rewriting the script of sinister whispering that starts in your head when that not enough feeling kicks in. Take a year to appreciate who you already are. Go ahead, give it a try. If it doesn't work, you can always try the same old thing next year.