How you plan to make your 2017 awesome? If you’re like most people, you will have a few resolutions on your mind. Even those of us who roll our eyes at the thought of New Year’s resolutions, can’t help but have a few intentions swirling around our brains.
Some of the most common resolutions are losing weight, quitting smoking, and paying off debt. But, this isn’t your average new year’s resolution post. Yes, we could talk about setting SMART goals (but, CAMH has already done that well here). Or we could talk focusing on contentment (but, Mindful.org has done that beautifully here). Instead, I’d like to talk about remembering our mental health in amongst all of these goals/resolutions/intentions or whatever other word we affix to our desire for change.
There are some pretty toxic forms of self-talk that surround resolutions. Two of these are, “Anyone should be able to…,” and “There are no excuses.” Let’s take a look at each of these and see why they are not realistic or healthy statements to say to ourselves.
“Anyone should be able to…” This statement is deeply invalidating of our unique experience. Just because we all have 24 hours in the day, it does not mean that we have the same amount of responsibilities or that we have the same values and priorities. I often hear this statement in relation to finding time for exercise or cooking meals at home. It’s usually followed by a judgmental statement like, “it’s not that hard” or “if you really want to.“
When we internalize this statement and hear it repeated as our own self-talk, it becomes a problem. What help is it to me if “anyone can do it?” That matters not. What matters is how I, in my unique circumstance, with my unique schedule and responsibilities and values and priorities am going to find the time. An impersonal and judgmental statement such as “anyone should be able to…” fills me with shame if I am, in fact, unable to do that thing. The implication is that the only reason one can’t, is pure laziness. Repeatedly telling yourself that you’re lazy and unable to meet a standard that “anyone should be able to,” is negative self-talk and is bad for our mental health.
So, instead of thinking about the grand anyone, think about how you, individual you, can reach your goal. And first, most importantly, make sure the goal has truly been chosen by you. Sure, anyone could probably craft themselves a visible set of abs with intense exercise and diet, but that’s not my goal. I don’t give a fig, personally, for that goal. It’s someone else’s goal. My goal is to cycle twice a week and practice yoga twice a week. That’s my goal. Just mine, it’s absolutely immaterial whether or not anyone else should be able to do that or not.
Making sure my goal is my own and avoiding comparisons to what anyone else should be able to do, is much better for my mental health.
“There are no excuses.” This statement implies that anything that gets in the way of achieving a goal is chosen by the person themselves as a way to get out of the work involved in the goal. It’s usually said to shame people into sticking to rigid schedules that probably weren’t realistic for them in the first place. What you’re really saying to yourself when you repeat this self-talk, is that any failure to comply fully to the details of your plan is a personal choice borne out of laziness. This is the opposite of motivating. This is self-degrading.
So, instead of shaming yourself by internalizing the “no excuses” self talk, think about the very real barriers to achieving your goals and think of realistic strategies to overcome these. If I set a goal to read every evening before bed, but I find that after lying with my kids while they fall asleep, I become too tired, is this an excuse? Or is it a very real barrier to my goal? Is simply repeating the shaming statement, “there are no excuses”, going to help me? No, it only serves to diminish my mental health by making me feel lazy and unproductive.
Feeling badly about oneself is not, in fact, motivating. It’s paralyzing. Would it not be better for me to rearrange my routine, finding a way to overcome the barrier? Maybe I could find a better time to read. Maybe I could try sitting up in my kids’ bed instead of lying down so that I don’t crash with them. There are ways to reach my goal, but repeating a phrase like “no excuses” will not help.
During this time of resolutions, goals, and intentions, I urge you to pay attention to your self-talk. Ask yourself if the self-talk swirling around your head is good for your mental health. Ask yourself if it’s truly your voice or if it’s in fact someone else’s voice. Ask yourself if it’s actually helping you reach your goal, or simply making you feel shameful, lazy, and down.
If your self-talk is not serving you well, change it. Your mental health will improve, and you will be more likely to reach your goals.