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  • Alexandra Finkel, LCSW

Rethinking Resolutions: Utilizing Reflection to Foster Self-Understanding

This time of year, there is a constant influx of messages about making resolutions and self-improvement. While setting goals and wanting to make healthy adjustments is a good thing, it can be really hard to follow through if every January you try to make sweeping changes all at once. When we try to do too much at once, we sometimes run into obstacles which can evoke tremendous shame and leave us paralyzed. Shame is often the driving underlying force behind an inability to change. Shame helps us stay "stuck" because it activates old internal patterns and convinces us that the risk and vulnerability of doing things differently are too much or not worth it.


So what do we recommend instead to set yourself up for success? Engaging in reflection to learn, rather than DO. Learning (and unlearning) is the first step to accepting yourself as you are. The paradox of change is that it cannot occur without first understanding, and then allowing ourselves to be exactly who we are.


4 Tips for Setting Intentions

  1. Engage in reflection. Reflection offers us a foundation. Some questions to consider:

  • How do you put yourself first without feeling guilty?

  • How do you forgive yourself when you're making a mistake?

  • How do you ask for help or support when you need it?

  • How do you set and protect your boundaries?

  • What are you most looking forward to or hopeful for this year?

  • What are you most worried about?

  • What makes you feel calm?

  • What helps you slow down and feel more present?

  • What helps you cope with hard moments?

  • How do you feel you have changed over the last 12 months?

Write down your responses and keep them somewhere safe. Look back on this next year to help you see what progress you made, what has changed and what has stayed the same, and what you hope for next year.


2. Identify your strengths. Starting with our strengths helps activate confidence and pride, making self-acceptance more readily available. Some questions to consider:

  • What can you do today that you didn't think you could do a year ago?

  • How do you encourage yourself when you're trying something new?

  • What is something that has made you feel proud?

  • What is something that makes you feel fulfilled?

  • What is something you learned about yourself this year?

3. Set small, achievable changes.

  • Be as specific as possible

  • Choose something realistic, that you can implement right away

  • Make a plan for how you will achieve the small goal

  • Set 1-3 goals at a time; only add new goals once you have mastered the previous ones

Some examples might be:

  1. Get ready for bed without my phone 3 times a week (Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays)

  2. Engage in 5 minutes of stretching or meditation when I wake up 2 mornings a week (Tuesdays and Wednesdays)

  3. Cook a simple recipe that excites me once a week (Wednesday)

  4. Practice deep breathing for 1 minute daily (Right before I go to sleep)

  5. Call my best friend every other week (6PM, walk home from work)

Remember, goals have to be specific to you. Generalized goals and changes that you think sound good or healthy do not help you understand what your needs or wishes are. This is why reflecting first on your values and priorities is key to successful change.



4. Create a simple mantra to come back to.


Mantras and affirmations can be helpful ways to gently remind ourselves of our strength and resilience when things feel especially hard. They can also be ways to continue to encourage ourselves. Some of our favorites:

  • This feels hard because it is hard, not because I'm doing something wrong.

  • I can do hard things.

  • I can cope with this.

  • Progress is not a straight line. A step back does not mean I am not moving forward.

  • Mistakes are an opportunity for me to grow.

  • I can always adjust my goals.

  • I am a work in progress because I am human, not because I am broken.

  • I am good enough as I am.


Let us know your thoughts. What goals have you set for yourself? What works for you and what feels hard? Comment below!

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