Do New Year’s Resolutions Really Matter?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a New Year’s Resolution as “a promise that you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad on the first day of the year.”

The importance of resolutions for the upcoming year falls on the individual; one is either into it, scoffing at it, or indifferent. While setting goals can provide a sense of purpose and accomplishment, is it necessary to wait until the official turn of a new year to begin the work?

In her blog titled “The Importance of New Year’s Resolutions“, Jessica Scheuerman states, “…making a resolution shows that you have the belief and hope in your ability to change habits and become a better you.”

Speaking for myself, 2020 has felt like a dig through dry sand – there’s a hole on the beach, but grains keep falling back in, causing a lot of energy to have been expended toward a minimal result. From conversations had with others throughout the pandemic, it seems that I’m not alone. Many of us are treading water, feeling grateful for the ability to do even just that. Progress be damned – let’s just try to stay afloat!

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology performed by the University of Scranton shows that only approximately 8% of Americans who make New Year’s Resolutions are successful. That feels bleak, especially with 2020 being a banner year. However, thinking critically of this and the general purpose behind a resolution, it may have to do with what type of goal we set for ourselves and how we break that goal down into manageable parts.

In any other year, I would be on the pessimistic side of the New Year’s Resolutions, arguing that every day is an opportunity to make positive changes. While I still believe in that, I have realized over the past two years that it is important to celebrate the good things – big and small, and if the change from 2020 to 2021 gives people a sense of encouragement, strength, and hope – make that resolution. If it makes someone feel as if they are starting off with a completely clean slate – make that resolution. If it makes you feel rejuvenated and happy (without causing harm or discontent to others) – go for it – make that resolution.

What are my resolutions, you ask?

  1. Drink more champagne. (Celebrating all good things, big and small!)
  2. Read more books. (Quiet time is so lovely!)
  3. Wear more blouses. (Because I feel pretty in them and that makes me happy.)

These resolutions are easy to accomplish and are not earth-shattering. I am not committing to losing “X” number of pounds or overhauling my entire life. No grand plan for world domination. No pressure; just a continuation of working on being gentle with myself during the trying times and enjoying the little things like a good book, a good blouse, and a good glass of bubbly.

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Can I escape over-achievement hell?

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I’d like to start this post by stating that I don’t have an answer to this question. It is going to require time, patience, and persistent experimentation.

Having been born in 1983, I am on the older side of the Millennial generation. According to The Balance Careers, we have various characteristics in common, including being team-oriented, hungry for feedback, and having a strong drive to achieve and succeed. While these are great qualities, many of us have or are experiencing feelings of burning out.

I have always been a driven, goal-oriented person. The past 3+ years I have carried a calendar book with me, my feelings of pride toward my productivity and organizational skills mixed with a growing sense of suffocation and rigidity. This book guides me during busy times and I have used it to continue to push forward in times of chaos when rest may have better served me.

Around two years ago, I began seriously questioning the purpose of tasks I loaded onto my to-do list. The urge to do less became an idea that I began obsessing over. But before I could do less I felt I had to continue doing more, whether it be making alternate career decisions, committing to college, ideas, and plans. In my mind, I need to achieve more to ‘earn’ the right to do less, which is backwards. Rest does not need to be earned – it should be considered a right. Anne Helen Peterson, in her article entitled “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation“, she states: “…[I]’ve internalized the idea that I should be working all the time.” Me too, girl.

Can I slow down? Can I change? Can I increase my happiness and decrease my to-do list after a lifetime of this tiring, overly-productive personality trait?

I am going to try and seek the answer to these questions. My first step is to begin putting less on my daily to-do list, using it to only keep track of important appointments, dates, and my weekly workouts as opposed to a [stifling] list of tasks and goals. Maybe this book has done more harm than good, but until time has passed and I have had a chance to reflect I will not know. I will be sure to share my findings here in the future.

How Do I Calm Down? [Personal Tips To Help Find Sanity “In The Moment”]

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My anxiety manifested when I was around 8 years old. While other kids may have self-soothed by sucking their thumb or biting their nails, I began chewing the taste buds off of my tongue. I would chew until my tongue bled, with sores all across the front and sides. It remains my tic to this day.

Unfortunately, I didn’t develop an awareness of how I could better manage my anxiety until the past two years. Here is a short list of tricks I use when stress and anxiety rear their ugly heads:

  • A proactive approach: saying “no” to caffeine. There are times I wake up and I am already on edge. I avoid caffeine on those days, as caffeine is a stimulant and will likely exacerbate the anxiety. Forgoing a morning coffee may sound crazy, given that 90% of Americans consume caffeine in some form. However, from my own personal experience, breaking the habit of regularly relying on caffeine was one of the best things I could have done for my mental health.
  • Deep, audible breaths. The American Institute of Stress indicates that consciously taking big, deep breaths stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which may help bring about feelings of calm. I like to make it a point to listen to my inhale and exhale, as it shifts my focus from the cause of the stress to the noise I am making and how it makes my body feel. If I find myself in an environment where my breathing techniques would prove distracting to others, I quietly take deep breaths and focus on the relaxation of the muscle groups that tend to hold my tension (chest, shoulders, neck).
  • My five senses. When I am suffering from information overload, it can be hard to find focus on the task at hand. When my thoughts are scattered, I will note things I can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. This helps to bring my psyche back to the present reality. It is also a great tool when taking a short break to either walk or sit outside, as it has helped me notice new things about my surroundings.

Using these three methods has helped me to avoid the need for daily medication for my anxiety. How you, the reader, choose to handle your stress is personal and not up for my judgment. I would also like to note that I am not a doctor and nothing in this blog post is intended to be used or viewed as a prescription in any way.

2020 has proven a tough year to navigate thus far. There is so much conflict and uncertainty. It is, in my opinion, the best time to get in touch with and take care of ourselves so that when the pandemic is over, we are stronger, more resilient, and grounded.

Personal Reflection: Quitting and Mediocrity.

When I wrote the blogs about quitting and mediocrity, I had no idea that these questions would become extremely relevant in my life within just a few weeks.

Just a week and a half ago, I was a student pursuing my Bachelor’s degree at Purdue Global University. I was (and still am) a full time employee at a busy law firm with a family, animals, and various eclectic hobbies and interests. Academically I was doing extremely well, achieving a 4.0 in my first term with a projection of earning the same for the second. Despite being successful, it was hard to realize my success when I felt constantly tense, stressed, and anxious about the work I had to do.

A typical work day was this: Wake up – Shower – Get ready for work – Pick up the downstairs – School work for 30-40 min – Drive to work – Work 8-8.5 hours – Come home and visit with the dogs and family – Dinner – School work or seminar (depending on the day) for 2-3 hours – Bed.

A typical weekend day was: Wake up – Pick up the house – School work for 3-6 hours – Bike ride – Couch/Netflix.

I had to have an honest discussion with myself; the main questions being: Is this what I want my life to be like for the next 4 years? Is this lifestyle sustainable?

The answer was a resounding “No”.

This decision consumed me for days and I kept it to myself, feeling disappointed that after only 1.5 terms I was seriously considering calling it quits. I felt ashamed having to tell my family, my close friends, and a couple of colleagues that I did not wish to continue my education. That my goal had changed, yet again; another task to add to the list of things I’ve quit over my lifetime.

The thing is, I knew I could do the work. I was (and am) seriously proud of myself for maintaining high grades when I had not been a student in 17 years. To be blunt – I just kicked some serious ass in college and if my education was my only obligation, I could continue to excel and earn my 4.0s. When I started the program, I was concerned with my ability to do the work. Could I take effective notes? Could I manage multiple-choice questions (which I’ve never been good at); could I make the time to do the work? The answers to all of those questions were yes, yes, and yes!

Yet, I withdrew. The goal and the work involved was not suiting or serving me. The benefits of having my free time back to spend it with family, friends, and my hobbies far outweighed the benefits of obtaining my Bachelor’s and moving on to a Master’s program or to law school. My “mediocre” and largely predictable life is actually exactly where I want to be. When it came to announcing my decision, I received nothing but support and love from everyone I shared the news with. My choice made a definitive statement as to where my priorities lie.

So, here is me today, my second full weekend being out of college. I have the entire weekend to work on things that fuel my soul. I have my weekday nights back. I have made regular exercise a priority again for my physical and mental health. I am happy; I am proud to be a quitter and an owner of a brilliantly mediocre and satisfying life.

Where’s the line between venting and toxicity?

Who hasn’t felt lighter after venting to a friend? Humans are not meant to be corked bottles; there are great mental, emotional, and physical health benefits in expressing our feelings and letting them out. In addition, our listener may provide clarity and perspective that we are unable to see while we are “in the moment”, thus helping us solve the problem.

Psychology Today, while it does not ignore the positive attributes of venting, indicates that the more we vent or complain, the better we may become at it (Seltzer, 2014). It could be easy to slip into the habit of venting instead of taking the action necessary to address the issue. In addition, repetitive venting may strain our relationships with others as the continuous exposure to another’s troubles can be emotionally taxing on the listener.

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So, at what time does healthy venting turn toxic and unproductive?

The answer can be found if we honestly reflect on our words, actions, and thoughts.

Michele Farris with The Daily Positive states that as soon as our venting becomes toxic when it turns into personal attacks on others. Specifically, “Those who learn this type of behavior as children, may rely on it a way to get attention. Listening to family tell negative stories makes an impact on how we view conflict. These negative stories become almost entertaining, but unfortunately, at someone else’s expense.”

I found myself in this exact situation last week. I was venting about a frustrating behavior of another and realized that I had moved into petty, unrelated criticisms. The person I was speaking with was laughing and adding to it, finding amusement in my insults and negativity. It was unnecessary and guess what? My frustrations were still there, compounded by feelings of shame for acting like a high school mean girl. No problems were solved.

In addition to honestly assessing our words to others, it is also important to consider our own role in the story and responsibility to the situation. Did we say or do something that had a negative impact and helped create the annoying and stressful result? What could we have done better? Self-reflection may be the toughest part in defining where the line is between venting and toxicity, as it involves asking ourselves the hard questions and facing answers we may not like.

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References:

Seltzer, L. F., Ph.D. (2014, April 2). 6 Virtues, and 6 Vices, of Venting | Psychology Today. Retrieved October 4, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201404/6-virtues-and-6-vices-venting

Farris, M. (2019). How You Can Avoid Toxic Venting. Retrieved October 04, 2020, from https://www.thedailypositive.com/how-to-avoid-toxic-venting/

Is Mediocrity Really Mediocre?

Merriam Webster defines mediocre as  definition of mediocre reads “of moderate or low quality, value, ability, or performance : ORDINARY, SO-SO

I’ve always felt my mediocrity rather keenly. I’m neither rich or famous. I see talented people on T.V. doing amazing things and athletes achieving astonishing feats! While I can do many things passably, I am not a true master of anything. I can’t compare my average life and skills with those who have clearly developed and extraordinary talents.

The idea of mediocrity is often scoffed at, as if we should feel ashamed to be somewhere in the middle. Thankfully, the dictionary definition of mediocrity appears to lend much to the interpretation of the reader.

What does the term “mediocre life” mean to you? Does it represent someone being average or is the definition narrowed toward those who are not living their lives with intention?

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Would you define it as someone having a predictable and “ordinary” job and lifestyle?

I have another question: Does your definition take into consideration the socioeconomic demographic surrounding you? It would be logical to acknowledge that what one considers “average” largely depends on their environment.

The Urban Institute projects that the poverty rate in the U.S. for 2020 is estimated to reach 9.2%. Within that demographic, one could assume that those in that 9.2% would consider having a steady job with a dependable income as more than mediocre – it’d be a blessing! Whereas, a celebrity may find the plunge to an average suburban neighborhood and lifestyle as devastating, boring, or limited.

In exploring this topic, I ran across a blog post by Juansen Dizon that spoke to this abhorrence of the idea of mediocrity. Within it, Dizon states:

“But then there’s this false sense of danger in knowing that we’re statistically average in a certain area in life. It’s the mentality of perfection that causes people to be unhappy with what they have accomplished because others are living so much better than they are.”

“And it takes courage to keep an average, simple life going.”

Not everyone is wired to want to be the best or the most successful.

What if a life of comfortable predictability is beautiful and so much more than just mediocre? I think the answers to these questions are unique to each individual.

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References:

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mediocre

Giannarelli, L., Wheaton, L., Acs, G. (2020, July). 2020 Poverty Projections. Urban Institute. https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/102521/2020-povertyhttps://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/102521/2020-poverty-projections.pdf-projections.pdf

Dizon, J. (2018, April 15). Here’s Why Being Average is Absolutely Okay [Web log post]. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://thoughtcatalog.com/juansen-dizon/2018/04/heres-why-being-average-is-absolutely-okay/

Is it ever okay to quit?

The notion of quitting a goal has a negative connotation. The internet is flooded with quotes meant to inspire people to keep moving forward, regardless of what it takes.

Society tends to look down on those who quit. Theo Tsaousides, Ph.D states, “…we feel sorry, unsympathetic, or worse, indifferent toward people who quit. There is nothing to be learned from them.”

My question is this: In certain circumstances, is it okay to quit? The above quote says no, but Mary Laura Philpott in the September 2020 issue of Real Simple magazine disagrees. Actually, her opinion is right in the title of her article “A Good Quit Feels Powerful”. Philpott indicates that the act of quitting something that is no longer serving us sends a strong message about what we deem is important in our lives. The things we do not choose are just as significant as what we choose.

So, what if you are feeling overwhelmed and discouraged? Would losing that last stubborn few pounds make a big difference in your mental state or solve all of your problems? Or would incorporating some quiet time or meditation better meet your needs?

I think the real answer to my question is deeply personal. For instance, I have started and quit many things over the years for various reasons. I quit my last blogging endeavor because it not longer felt successful or purposeful to me. I quit my trial period of a weight loss app because after a month of not losing a pound, I felt disappointed and stressed. It was not bringing me joy or a sense of pride. I’ve quit jobs, friendships, and feelings of obligations toward others. Yet, one thing that never quits is my motivation to improve my life and my relationship with myself.

If you do make the decision to quit something right now, don’t have it be reading this post because you’ll miss Maralee Bradley’s sage advice:

“Here is the simplest advice that I can give you if you decide to quit: bury the goal, mourn it, and move on. Giving up on something that you have wanted for a long time is painful. It deserves a proper burial and maybe a short mourning period, but you have to move on. To continue thinking about it, wondering what if I tried harder or worked on it longer, and imagining what life would have been like if you had succeeded, is only going to make you feel worse and keep you stuck in self-pity and self-blame. And the best way to move on is to direct your energy, hope, and enthusiasm toward new ideas, new projects, and new goals.”

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References:

Tsaousides, Thad, Ph.D (2018, May 29). Is It Time to Give Up On Your Dreams?. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/smashing-the-brainblocks/201805/is-it-time-give-your-dreams

Philpott, Mary Laura (2020, September). A Good Quit Feels Powerful. Real Simple, 14.

Bradley, Maralee (n.d.) I’m Raising My Kids to be Quitters. Her View From Home. https://herviewfromhome.com/kids-sometimes-its-ok-to-quit/