Its not all too unfamiliar to feel as though this time of year calls for drastic change. Common is the saying that January is a time for becoming a whole new you, often with a brand new diet, fitness, career or recovery goal to pursue at full throttle.
But that type of message is a little bit sour in many people’s mouths (including my own!), especially when you may be feeling as though 2016 didn’t go exactly to plan, or all of your goals were met with perfection …
The same bitter situations could also occur when you may still be struggling to cope with any current difficult situations, such as a negative relationship with food and body. You might also be feeling completely overwhelmed with pressure to change yourself into something that you are not, perhaps even feeling the need to significantly alter your appearance, career path or achieve success in a form of recovery you are pursuing.
It is as though, with enough will power, dedication and expensive lifestyle products, we will evolve into someone clean, renewed, innocent, godlike, socially accepted, lovable and clear of all our past identities, struggles, negative feelings and personal issues….
Reality check though, do we even need to transform ourselves like this in order to love ourselves and reach our full potential?
A big problem I have with the new year new you message is that it sometimes devalues who we currently are. What does it say about the person we have been in our life up until now, and how it has contributed to the person we have become?
Not that self-development isn’t worthy of pursuring (it definitely is!), but do we need to throw our whole identity away and mould ourselves into something that appears more acceptable to society? The past makes us who we are, with our memories and lessons we have learned along the path of life so far.
Another couple of questions I have been recently asking myself is, could goals to completely transform ourselves and jump onto the next trend of self-development actually be a huge distraction to the real issues going on in our lives that can be resolved through employing more compassionate methods ? These are the exact questions i’m going to tackle right here right now
With the last question, it makes a bit more sense when you think about the sudden dip in mood that frequently follows the festive period. January blues can be felt by anyone, but especially individuals who struggle with finances, body image or their relationship with food. For example, coming to terms with having less money in our bank accounts, family arguments and/or feeling (unnecessarily) guilty for all the food (or lack of food) we consumed over christmas can leave many of us feeling bad about ourselves - If only we could do something ‘healthy’ to make us erase those experiences and feel better ….
Unfortunately, the wrong answer is usually provided to us very conveniently by profit making diet, fitness and wellness industries.
As many of you may know, its hard to escape the constant bombardment of weight loss, gym memberships, new superfoods, or dieting promotions in January (much to the heartache of anyone suffering with disordered eating or trying to gain weight for health!).
These industries want you to believe in the goal of becoming a whole new person so you can invest in their products that make make you slightly more closer to that (unrealisitc) goal … To them, your guilt and shame is equivalent to money rather than smiles.
For myself, year after year, January felt like a brand new start. Each Christmas felt like another block to recovering from anorexia, and I would be left feeling as though I hadn’t stepped up to the plate and tackled my eating disorder once and for all.
Although I felt (very unnecessarily) guilty for eating at Christmas, I felt compelled to make the next year my recovery year - the year I would get well, gain weight and knock anorexia on its big fat head for good!!!. But, a big block to my recovery success was setting my goals to high, and also being motivated to please others like my family and health care professionals rather than myself.
Like so many of us, focussing on food and eating more was also a big distraction from the many other issues I needed to face, which ultimately boiled down to feelings of unworthiness and not taking time out for nourishing my mind as well as my body.
I knew I needed to change, but by the time of my birthday month of March, I would have gradually succumbed to some other form of dietary restriction pattern, hating my body and becoming ever more trapped in another ‘clean eating’ cycle where I felt unworthy of eating anything that tasted pleasurable.
Its almost like the new books you get given at school or when you buy a new diary (when experiencing a Paperchase or stationary shop addiction!). At first everything looks neat and tidy, until one day where you accidently make a scribble or spill your pen ink, then everything looks unscruffy and untidy … until a new book with fresh new pages comes your way. But we don’t need to wait until we can buy a brand new book - or enter the new year in order to make positive changes to our lives...
I also had friends who were experiencing similar things. They too wanted to change into someone new - someone who had never had food or body related issues, but like myself were finding it difficult to reach the hopes and dreams they had visualised back in January. This only perpetuated the feelings of not being good enough, and that life was destined to be a constant whirlwind of guilt, shame and failure …
Part of the problem was in setting the sights too high, but also taking our eyes off the bigger picture. I or my friends weren’t failing at recovery per se, but we were failing to to see that we didn’t need to get a whole new body or self.
I needed to change, but I also needed to accept myself for who I currently was, and make time for self-development rather than complete transformation and recovery. Rather than occasional slip ups resulting in instant relapses and harmful habits, I needed to realise that these were inevitable and just part of the journey forwards and upwards.
Only when I eventually came to view self-compassion as a vital element of recovery did I begin to notice any significant positive changes in the long run. Over time, my new years’ resolutions didn’t become resolutions or revolutions at all. Instead, they became part of several ongoing commitments to myself - commitments to take time for self care, to learn more about myself and to invest in parts of myself that didn’t revolves around food, body or exercise.
These commitments didn’t even have to take place in January, but instead at regular intervals throughout the year, where I could check in with myself and I set my sights on myself as a whole person. By doing this, I could cherish how my negative experiences had actually contributed to the person I was becoming today, as well as notice all of the great achievements I had already made.
They key message I am trying to provide you with, is that we don’t need to set ourselves the goal of transforming into whole new people, or expecting that we are going to transform ourselves in January (or any other month of the year for that matter !).
I am also hoping to inspire you to think outside the box when it comes to making opportunities for self-development. You don’t need to set your sights on food, fitness or body specifically. Personal goals and achievements can come in the form of making commitments for self-care, and developing a positive relationship with food and how you appreciate and take care of your body.
There are so many mind and body connections to contend with when it comes to our overall happiness and wellbeing, so simply focussing on some physical end goal (whether than be weight gain or loss or recovery) misses the point when it comes to stepping into a new phase of our life or overcoming low self esteem and a negative relationship with food and body.
I want you to know, in your heart, mind and the sturdy bones of your body, that the last 12 months, no matter how tough, has made you who you are today. You do not need to feel ashamed or guilty for not meeting last years goals. You also don’t need to quickly jump on board with a radical lifestyle change or recovery pan.
All you need to do is appreciate who you are right now, while realising that you are worthy of investing in and loving from the inside out.
Only you hold the key to living more self-compassionately over this next year and body, and when you learn that the doors this key can unlock are limitless, then I can guarantee that you’ll find abundant joy, fulfilment and opportunities for continual self-development no matter what year or month you are living in.