For as long as I can remember, I’ve started the new year off on some sort of diet.
Determined to reverse the damage from overindulging during the holidays, I’d resolve to cut back on sugar, eat more vegetables and get back to my normal workout schedule.
In most cases, I’d go pretty extreme—cutting out entire food groups for extended periods of time to “reset” my body and jumpstart a year of healthier choices.
And every year, it would backfire.
I’d do great for a few weeks, maybe even months. But eventually, I’d grow tired of the restriction. Then, I’d either rebel and eat all the things, or I’d resign as a failure.
This year is different: I’m not making any resolutions. None. Nada. It may be a new year, but this time around I’m not hell-bent on becoming someone new.
Change is Good. Growth is Better.
I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the word change. It’s important we learn how to embrace change and transition in our lives. And we certainly have thoughts and behaviors we can change. I just don’t like to use it broadly about ourselves. When it comes to setting goals for the new year, I prefer to look through the lens of growth.
I don’t know about you, but when I feel like I have to “change” something about myself, I feel judged. Like I’m doing something wrong. Like I am wrong. It also communicates a sense of urgency. Like this change has to happen now, or soon—or else.
It’s a lot of pressure.
Growth, on the other hand, feels more gentle. When I say, “I’ve got some growing to do in this area” I instantly feel more compassion toward myself. Growth doesn’t chastise me for where I’m at, or make any judgement. It focuses more on the positive of where I want to be, rather than on the negative of where I am. Plus, growth is gradual—not instant—which reminds me I’ve got time to get there.
I’m not a life coach or therapist. I’m no expert. But I do have a lot of experience failing. Which means I’ve learned what doesn’t work. And over the years, knowing what doesn’t work has helped point me in the direction of what does.
Here’s my best advice for how to grow in the new year, without making any resolutions:
1. Go Right to the Root
The single, most impactful practice I’ve adopted in the past year has been asking myself, “why?” about literally everything I do. Like a child seeking to understand the world around them, I want to understand myself.
It seems simple, but it’s very powerful. Asking “why” I was binge eating helped me identify the roots of the problem: my restrictive diet and my buried self-hatred. It wasn’t working to just commit to stopping the behavior. I had to go deeper to find out why I was doing it in the first place.
How about you? If you have a behavior you’d like to change, have you ever asked yourself why you do it? Why do you eat late at night? Why don’t you volunteer more? Why don’t you write that book/start that business/etc?
That’s the question we have to ask ourselves if we want to grow. Because there’s a reason you eat late at night. There’s a reason you haven’t started that book. Why?
Of course “why” is only the beginning. But you have to start there. We can’t change behaviors without discovering their cause. We can’t solve a problem without knowing the factors that contribute to it.
"We have to go to the root to address the issue of growth."
2. Start Small
It’s been my experience that extreme changes are impossible to sustain long term. (Especially if I try to change a behavior outright without taking the time to dig deeper and find the real issue).
I’ve also learned that the bigger and grander my commitment to change, the more shame and embarrassment I feel when I fail.
Any real growth I’ve seen in my life has happened through small shifts in my mindset, and little changes in my behavior.
Instead of eliminating dairy, gluten, soy, corn, sugar and alcohol for 30 days, I just started listening to my body and how I felt after eating certain foods. If I noticed I had less energy or stomach issues after eating something, I’d eat something different the next day.
Psychologically, small wins encourage us. If you normally wake up at 8:00am but want to start waking up earlier, start by setting your alarm for 7:50. The next day, try 7:45. Continue setting your alarm earlier every day and eventually you’ll get to a time that works for you.
But if you set your alarm for 6am the very first day, you’ll probably struggle to get up and it will be a negative experience from the start. Plus, you’ll be SUPER TIRED and might think to yourself, “I can’t do this.”
In our on-demand world, we want change now. But the reality is, growth takes time. So choose the actions that are most sustainable over time—which are most often the smallest.
"Any real growth I've seen has happened through small shifts in my mindset."
3. Commit to Imperfection
Growth is a process. A journey. Which is rarely linear. In fact, what we commonly label as “setbacks” or “failures,” are really just destinations along the way. And we often learn more from those experiences than anything else.
A good place to start when approaching your growth journey is to accept that it won’t be a straight shot. We may get temporarily lost, need to stop for a break, or even double back a few times before we reach our final destination.
It’s important that we don’t chastise ourselves for going “off-course.” Because I truly believe there really is no such thing.
"In life, sometimes we have to leave a little room for the wandering."
One way I do this is through positive self-talk. Most of the time, when we think of positive self-talk, we think about phrases that remind us of how capable we are. “You can do this, you’re amazing, you’re strong, etc.”
Which is GOOD—don’t get me wrong. We are far more capable than we could ever imagine. But we need to remember we’re also human. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to need an extra hour of sleep some mornings. We’re going to find comfort in the richness of a chocolate bar.
For me, positive self-talk usually sounds more like, “It’s okay if you can’t.” “Take a break.” “You’re still worthy and valuable at rest.” “You’re more than just the way you look.”
This is a far more forgiving and compassionate way to approach our growth journey.
One Final Thought
The world doesn’t need a new you.
The people that love you don’t want a new you.
By all means, seek to be the best version of you by learning and growing continually. But remember that that journey will take a lifetime, not just a year. So be patient and gentle with yourself.
Now there’s a resolution I can get behind.