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  • Writer's pictureJulie Love

New Year’s Resolutions... Goals... Whatever

A new year, a new start, always lead, tends to lead us to examine our lives… and unfortunately find them sorely in need of remodeling. So we set grand aspirational goals to fix whatever needs fixing, often in the form of a new year’s resolution.

And that lasts… maybe a few weeks? It’s hard to find anyone who can describe having actually achieved a New Year’s Resolution. They might have managed to do part of it, or stuck with a lifestyle change for a while, but more often than not the whole New Year’s Resolution ritual is just Step One in our annual experience of Failure by February. Not terribly surprising, if you started the whole process by mulling over your shortcomings from the previous year.

Not all resolutions are aimed at correcting past flaws though – we also look to our dreams & aspirations, and we set goals, the grander the better. Goals are of course wonderful – myself, I have this program to expand statewide – but hanging your sense of success on an accomplishment in the distant future has its drawbacks. For many, a goal is just a map to future self-recrimination. The detailed instructions for articulating your targets, SMART goals, etc. – give you a detailed map to the same sad destination. Even those with abundant confident optimism don’t get to celebrate yet (and then they usually keep moving the goalposts to the Next Big Thing).

We need to find a way to focus on today, to be present in the moment while still moving forward with a sense of purpose. We need a focus that is broad enough that it can apply every day, yet deep enough that the daily successes are still meaningful. This year, try replacing resolutions with choosing a Theme for your year. Instead of deciding What you want to do, you think more about How you want to do… everything. Or most things.

Some possible themes: Health. Patience. Slow Down. Fresh Air. Social Connections. Don’t Guess, Ask. Confidence (even if feigned). Consider both sides. Tiny bites. Notice beauty. Do the Scary Thing. One thing at a time. Playfulness. Get moving. One thing you notice is how individualized a theme is – since everyone has different struggles, people might have completely opposite themes. Losing out to avoidance and hesitation? Then “Say Yes.” Chronically overcommitted and exploited? Then “Say No” (or “I’ll get back to you about that”). One person might need to Think Twice, while another tries to Waffle Less and Commit Already. Lacking a fixed finish line, every day you act on your theme is a day to celebrate. And when you don’t, it’s easier to reflect on how a situation might turn out better next time if you respond more thematically, rather than feeling a failure.

But some people would prefer a bit more structure to the turning of their year. For these people, check out The Year Compass. This is a wonderfully designed workbook for reflecting on the past year and using that to develop your vision for the next one. The website has a free booklet to guide you (printable, or online).

As I mentioned, the School Nurse Liaison Project now has a website, where there is a blog. You’ll find these newsletters there (as well as an increasing number of the old ones). I really hope that the ability to comment might spark some dialogue. I’d love to hear from you about how you approach starting a new year, resolutions, goals, themes, whatever works best for you!


The Cracked Cup is a podcast featuring a Unitarian Universalist Minister and the founder of the UU Hysterical Society (who started UU seminary, but then pursued a ministry of founding a Facebook page of funny UU memes…). It’s simply a warm, funny, and often wise chat between them. And it planted the seeds for this month’s musings by discussing setting themes for the year.

The Happiness Lab is a podcast hosted by Dr. Laurie Santos, a psychology professor at Yale University. Episodes discuss what current psychology shows us about what actually increases life satisfaction and happiness. The most recent episode, The Next Big Thing, also helped inspire this month’s essay. The two-part episode about children and anxiety (Happier Parents, Happier Kids Pt 1: You Child Isn’t a VIP of a Fragile Vase andHappier Parents, Happier Kids Pt 2: Letting Children Try and Fail) is excellent.

The episode about The Next Big Thing is an interview with actor Tony Hale, who wrote a great children’s book, Archibald’s Next Big Thing. (Apparently that is now also a series; not sure if it continues with the point of the book.) He also referred to Jim Carey’s Golden Globe speech, but looking for that led me to a few other speeches about finding what really matters in life.

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