by Elizabeth Venart
As one year ends and another begins, it is natural to reflect back on the year’s journey traveled and aspire to create or experience something new in the the twelve months ahead. Social media hype about making this next year “the best one yet” may prompt us to give New Year's Resolutions another try — even if we know ourselves, our track record, and the unlikely possibility that our January 1st promises will last. Typical resolutions focus on how we want to improve (exercise, eat better, get off social media, read, be positive), so when we don’t, we end up feeling worse about ourselves and things being the same. We are in good company. Research has shown that while the follow-through with these kinds of changes may be strong that first week (about 77% of us keep our commitment for seven days), resolve reduces dramatically over the year — with less than half of us lasting three months and only 19% of people having stuck with their commitment two years later.
Despite evidence these annual promises are likely to be short-lived, we may still feel drawn to make them. We crave change. We want to be healthy and happy. We want our lives to be meaningful, fun, peaceful, and connected.
Rather than make a list of new habits and schedules we may struggle to follow, perhaps we could experiment with inviting the changes we want in a simpler, gentler way? It is possible. I’ve included several ideas for how in this article. They include selecting a “word” for the year, creating a vision board, making monthly goals rather than yearly ones, writing simple “more” and “less” lists, and themed playlists.
A Word for the Year
One simpler practice many find meaningful is to select a “word” for the year. This involves narrowing your long list of priorities down to one central theme. You are saying, “This is my focus for the year.” There are endless possibilities, so carving out some time to reflect, meditate, brainstorm possibilities, and journal about it can help you gain clarity. This may take some time. Or it could be very simple and obvious to you. When I explained the idea about New Year’s resolutions to my eight-year-old niece, she shared that she’d like to get better at soccer and gymnastics this year and can see herself practicing more and improving. I asked her the question on the last of five days we spent together in late December. We live a distance apart. After her initial response about growing stronger, she gave me a big smile and a hug, then added, “I also really want to see my family every month.” She knows what she values. I trust you do too.
Selecting a word for the year can be like a beacon that keeps bringing us home to what matters. Once you select a word, find a way to keep it in your conscious awareness. Maybe you make it your screen saver, put it on a sticky note on your nightstand or next to your computer at work, or set a daily phone alarm labeled with your word. As you revisit it throughout the year, give yourself permission to change it if it no longer feels of central importance to you. Trust yourself to know what is meaningful.
Another way to keep your word, theme or vision alive throughout the year is to create a vision board. Vision boards can be very specific and tailored to an area of your life where you’d like to focus (e.g. relationships, career, health), but they can also be more conceptual (e.g. conveying a feeling of calm, a sense of adventure, or a focus on beauty). Whether you create a physical board or a virtual one, keep it somewhere easy to see. Let the continual visual reminder support you in remembering.
Creating a Playlist
Music speaks to our hearts. Selecting specific songs for a custom playlist is another way to remind yourself of your word, theme, and positive intentions. Let the music encourage and support you. If you want more courage, create a playlist that inspires you to feel brave. If you want to feel peaceful, curate a calming collection of music. If you seek more playfulness, find songs that make you dance, play, and even laugh.
Choose a Monthly Focus or Goal (Not a Yearly One)
Another way to simplify is to create a goal or focus one month at a time. Maybe it will be a word. Maybe it will be a new habit you’d like to try (30 days of yoga, for example). Maybe it is a way you’d like to stretch yourself, invite more self-compassion, or practice courage during a month when you especially need it. When the next month arrives, you could choose to repeat the focus or to find something new. The important thing is that you are checking in with yourself each month to see what feels right. You aren’t burdening yourself with a giant 365-day commitment in January that may feel irrelevant as you enter June or face September; rather, you have a chance to play every thirty days with something new.
Can our approach to the New Year be even easier? It can. You could draw a line down a sheet of paper and write two lists — one column labeled “more” and one labeled “less.” This idea was shared in an article on The Cut, referencing Julia Rothman’s Instagram feed where she shared her two lists. Keep it simple. We can even take this a step further. My colleague Rachel Kobin (Founder and Director of the Philadelphia Writers Workshop) has the gentlest, simplest approach I’ve seen yet. In 2023, her New Year’s Resolution was to “see what happens.” She shared that deciding to “see what happens” definitely set her up for less disappointment. It also helped her feel grateful for all the good things she experienced. As for 2024? She smiled: “I’m planning on making the same resolution this year.”
Wishing you beautiful simplicity in the New Year, self-acceptance in the process, and ease in navigating life’s ups, downs, and unexpected turns.
Elizabeth Venart, LPC, is the Founder and Director of The Resiliency Center of Greater Philadelphia. She specializes in supporting Highly Sensitive People (including other therapists, teachers, and healers) to embrace their gifts and develop deeper self-trust. A Certified EMDR Therapist, Certified IFS Therapist, and EMDRIA-Approved Consultant, she leads trainings through the Syzygy Institute on the powerful integration of IFS and EMDR therapies for trauma resolution. She loves spiritual and nature-based poetry (Rumi, Hafiz, Mary Oliver, Joy Harjo, John O’Donohue) and leads a free monthly poetry evening. She also leads a weekly laughter yoga class, to encourage more joy and connection. To learn more, visit her website at https://elizabethvenart.com/.