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  • Writer's pictureDr. Stacey Chimimba Ault

Restful Resolutions: Hmmm, sounds like an oxymoron

While Setting Resolutions at the Beginning of the Year Rarely Works

Image: Path through a forest in winter.

I stopped setting resolutions. After many years of declaring “new year, new me” I finally admitted new year’s resolutions weren’t working for me. I would set elaborate plans for all the things I wanted to accomplish starting January one, only to find myself slowly falling back into old habits and patterns a few weeks later. Former me would write down all these random things I wanted to accomplish throughout the year without truly reflecting on where I was, and what I needed. I would commit to random things I wanted to achieve with little time spent evaluating what I truly needed, or why my previous attempts didn’t work. In retrospect, my resolutions were usually related to other people’s (or societies’) expectations for me, and included things like “save more money” or “go to the gym”. They were things I aspired to do, but not things that I had truly settled in my spirit to focus on, with intention, throughout the year. They were things I rarely completely achieved. I’m not alone in this. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, only 8% of the people who make new year’s resolutions stick to them.1 I’m sure you have your own stories of failed resolutions, which wouldn’t be a big deal if they didn’t come along with all the pressure, guilt, and shame attached to them.

A couple of years ago, I moved away from the intensity and pressure of New Year, and focused instead on the eve of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. After the solstice (usually Dec 21 or 22nd) the sun begins its return. This is a great time spiritually, and astrologically, to spend some time reflecting on the year that is past, as well as set intentions for the year to come. In all honesty, I had a little more success with this. After mulling and reflecting over my previous year, I would declare my intentions many of which would evolve and progress as the year went on. But you already know … after the intentions ... come the goals! Taking what should be a spiritual, introspective, exercise, by the time the bell toiled at midnight I had a new list of SMART goals, personal OKRS (objectives and key results), or KPIs (key performance indicators) that would follow me around like an oft-neglected, puppy throughout the year. Often times I would achieve some of the goals. Of course, I was happy to be celebrating the achievement of some things, but I still felt guilty and shameful of the ways I fell short, again.

As I reflected this year, I realized some of my goals (highkey most of them) were driven by toxic productivity and grind culture. Even in the midst of transitioning into a more restful way of being, I set some ambitious expectations that were attached more to my need to feel accomplished by my personal achievement, than to allowing my body and my spirit to tell me what they valued and needed.

The winter solstice (and wintertime in general) invites us to go within and explore ourselves, reflect, and take inventory. It is a time of hibernation and reflection. A time of slowness, of solitude and of peace. It is a perfect time for thinking deeply and determining those things are ready to release. A time of freeing yourself of ways of being that no longer serve you (shedding your leaves, if you will).

Winter is not necessarily, however, the best time of year to plant new seeds, unless you are planting inside, or in a container that protects the seed from the elements. Seeds planted in cold or frozen soil will likely perish. This ah-ha makes me pause …

Why, during winter, a season of reflection, pause, and rest do we find ourselves bombarded with capitalist propaganda to spend and “do”? Not only during the holiday season, but even during the new year, do we find ourselves called to invest our money and time into things that make us “better” … how many of us re-open gym memberships, or spend money on organization tools, or even treat ourselves to new “things” after we have used the end of the year to purge and donate our old things.

If you are struggling with setting new goals, or finding that your goals remind you of your old, over-productive self, you are not alone. Sometimes (most times) in order to truly rest, we are called to unlearn and deprogram at the deepest level. Sometimes (oftentimes) we are called to resist the urge to set goals, even those we have carefully termed “rest goals” and rather, simply, quietly, gently, mindfully, engage in rest.

I wonder, what would happen if we sat in our reflections. If we mulled over our goals for a few months, kept them safe in a container before we declare them to others, or committed ourselves to them. If we allowed ourselves time to embrace the slowness of winter before we move frantically back into the next thing. How would we be different if we gave ourselves permission to push back on the “new year, new me” fervor, and practice showing up, being, resting?

As a leader, I am always contemplating how the lessons I am learning individually, impact us collectively. Our organization, The RAGE Project, spent the fall time reflecting on 2022 and setting tentative collective goals for the upcoming year. We planned to conclude our individual “year-end evaluation and goal-setting” process in January. Now, I wonder if I have been motivated more by the capitalist colonial calendar than I am by what each employee needs. I wonder if a more seasonal review (maybe in line with our seasonal pauses) might be helpful. In line don’t have the answers yet … and then again, of course, I don’t. It’s winter, maybe I should just be restfully reflecting and not rushing to make decisions or try new things. Maybe it’s ok to simply ponder new ways of being, that are more in line with what our bodies and spirits need. That are more in line with the way nature operates. That are aligned with how our planet operates when she is at her best.

Maybe a restful resolution doesn’t exist. Is just an oxymoron, or cute-sounding paradox. Maybe restful leadership calls us to reexamine all this shit. Especially right now. And rest.

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