January is the time for hastily made, easily broken New Years resolutions. Perhaps in the depths of a New Years Day hangover you resolved to stop drinking, or after trying for over five minutes to squeeze into your old skinny jeans that fit perfectly in November, you resolved to eat better and exercise more over the coming year, even going so far as to get a student gym membership, or sign up for a half-marathon. For the majority however, the resolve to make a change will fade, and the new gym clothes will lie crumpled in the bag, a source of shame and guilt.
New years resolutions are often born from a place of self-criticism: Eyeing yourself critically in the mirror, or scrolling back to 2009 on your Facebook photos, berating yourself for letting yourself go. Unfortunately, according to the laws of compassion, deciding to make a change based on those emotions doesn’t usually translate into a positive long-term transformation. Daily, many of us will feel or perceive ourselves as inadequate, hence it is a massive motivator in desiring change, but more important is to ask ‘why we do feel this way?’
We often set ourselves up to fail, and then are unforgiving of ourselves, greeting slip-ups with chastisement, rather than the sort of words of encouragement we would offer to any friend struggling. Not only is this kind of thinking not conducive to success, but it is actually quite painful. Have you imposed upon yourself a standard which is impossible to live up to, or has one been externally imposed upon you that doesn’t reflect what actually matters to you? Instead of making resolutions because we feel negative, we should make them to give ourselves more opportunities to be positive. Taking up running in order to feel the exhilaration of having a clean body and mind is going to be more successful than taking up running in order to look as thin as your best friend.
Feeling love and respect and empathy towards yourself and meeting your thoughts and feelings with kindness and care are essential to being happy. Being nice to yourself is often overlooked due to its obviousness, but without looking after yourself, how can you look after other people? Starting to feel compassion towards yourself is hard work. It takes diligence, particularly because negative thinking-habits are ingrained, so it’s hard to notice them. Even if you do notice yourself criticising, you can then start criticising yourself for criticising yourself! Self-compassion means treating yourself with the same respect and dignity you would treat a good friend.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t make resolutions, but perhaps we should build towards them rather than expecting to go cold turkey. If you resolve to run a half-marathon, it doesn’t matter that you didn’t start training today because it was raining and you would rather stay in to watch Game of Thrones. It matters that tomorrow, instead of writing the whole thing off because you missed a day, you go out running, and don’t berate yourself over yesterday. Any process of change is slow. The consequences of our previous actions don’t just drop away on January 1st because we really, really want them to. We are creatures of habit, and they take time to break.