New Year, New Me?

by Melva Burton

This is the time of year when we want to – or feel that we have to – make oodles of New Year resolutions and ‘new year, new me’ becomes an echoing mantra around us. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t challenge ourselves to progress but this concept of a ‘new me’ doesn’t acknowledge everything that is already good within us.

We don’t have to transform our lives every time this arbitrary date – the time that the earth has taken to orbit the sun – rolls round. Maybe it might benefit us more if we paused to reflect on how far we’ve come in the past 365 days rather than focus on how far we didn’t go. This seems particularly relevant, given all the ‘stuff ’ we have had to face over the past year.

Pondering on the idea of ‘new year, new me’ a list of ‘r’ words pops into my head and roll swiftly off my tongue: renew, relax, refresh, reset, restore, revive. All potentially very relevant… That’s another ‘r’ and maybe you can think of more. It seems to me to be more helpful to embrace some of these activities than to be pushing ourselves hard with a lengthy ‘should’ and ‘ought’ to-do list for the year ahead. The pressure of self-improvement can lead to a greater feeling of failure if we slip up.

“Self-compassion improves our motivation by removing the fear of self-criticism if we fail”

So how might we nurture the ‘New Me’ and move forward in 2022 in a kinder way? The new year provides an opportunity for us to reflect on what gives us meaning and happiness in life and how far we have come on our journey.

I’ve gone on about the brain’s negativity bias in previous ramblings. We’ve been conditioned to focus on the bad stuff so we have to make a conscious effort to turn our minds to the positive. Reflecting on what went well during the year that we’ve just let go of, rather than what went wrong, is a great way of tipping the brain’s bias away from the negative but it takes practice to develop the better WWW habit.

Way back in 1905 Theodore Roosevelt came out with “Believe you can and you’re half way there.” This strikes me as a powerful motivational message as believing is the first step towards achieving a goal. If we don’t believe that we can then we are probably going to stay stuck on the spot. Once we are half way there we are less likely to quit. Once we are half way there then believing we can will enhance our optimism and motivation as we move forward.

If we lean towards developing a growth mindset, things feel more positive. There’s a sprinkling of optimism about our ability to move in the direction that we want to go in. In contrast, if we embrace a fixed mindset we may limit our options. The way we think about ourselves and our abilities can shape our lives. A growth mindset encourages us to adopt a positive outlook about learning new stuff so there is greater motivation and effort as well as acceptance of failure as a temporary setback. This seems much better than giving up and feeling guilty as it allows us to bounce back and move on. In contrast, with a fixed mindset we can get in to negative thinking with a loud self-critical inner voice.

Weaving in some self-compassion and kindness will help us get there if we are challenged on the way. Through practising self-compassion we accept the person we already are rather than pushing ourselves on fiercely to become ‘improved’ and ‘perfect’. Adopting a friendly attitude towards yourself makes it possible to more forward, knowing we won’t beat ourselves harshly if we fail. The research into the benefits of selfcompassion indicate that it results in reductions in depression and anxiety, better relationships and feeling freer to pursue one’s goals. Self-compassion also improves our motivation by removing the fear of selfcriticism if we fail. So, self-compassion is good for us. That’s a fact.

Practising a bit of mindfulness can help us be kinder to ourselves. I agree with Padraig O’Morain when he says that “Mindfulness gives you that space, that pause, in which to step back from what’s going on in your head and your emotions. And because we can so quickly get lost in our reactions and our self-criticisms, that pause is really important – it enables us to step out of the river of thoughts carrying us away and instead to stand on the bank, observe what’s going on and make calm choices”.

So, to get back to the pull of the need for shiny new year resolutions, maybe focusing, with kindness, on one or two of the ‘r’ words – renew, relax, refresh, reset, restore, revive – will help us be on our own side in the year ahead.

Melva is running a series of Being on Your Own Side resilience courses, which include some mindfulness practices, at the Colne Open Door Centre. The courses consist of four one-and-a-half hour sessions in small groups of up to six people. They are free and open to everyone. Contact the Colne Open Door Centre (01282 860342 or if you want more information.