New Year’s resolutions—and most other change goals—usually originate from dissatisfaction. We want to feel differently than we do in the moment: insecure, guilty, undesirable, unsuccessful, ungrounded or ashamed. We regard ourselves with a critical eye, identifying a culprit for our discontent, and find a habit we want to break or make that we believe will make life better. We vow to meditate regularly, lose weight, save money, get organized, stop drinking, be more assertive, etc.
Such behavior change could make a difference, but when our Inner Critic is put in charge of making and overseeing our resolutions, struggle is guaranteed. Eventually, self-judgment drains our energy and leaves us feeling discouraged. This is a core reason why resolutions are typically abandoned within days.
It is hard to convince people that self-love and compassion are essential for creating lasting change, because most of us believe we have to be stern with ourselves in order to reach our goals. But the research about behavior change debunks this myth. In fact, people are less likely to stick with their resolutions when they are self-critical. Behavior change is a learning process filled with trial and error. If we allow our Inner Critic to take charge while we try something new, we will be more likely to give up when we hit a change challenge.
Instead, connect with the most compassionate part of yourself when you think about the dissatisfaction you’re experiencing. When you’re considering a change goal, examine your resolution deeply to determine if there is a self-loving way to adopt it. Bring empathy to the pain you are trying to solve by setting this goal, and explore whether the change reinforces oppressive ideas that leave you feeling rejected or “less than.” If so, then you know the Inner Critic is weaponizing your good intentions.
For example, weight loss goals often emerge from self-judgment. The Inner Critic and our fat-shaming culture prescribe food choices that emphasize deprivation and grueling movement activities. To translate these self-critical goals into self-loving goals, consider how you can opt for loving nourishment of your body and more joyful movement. Or you might decide to change your consumption of media and seek out content that affirms diverse body types.
Self-compassionate goals honor your core nature and are committed to your flourishing. Self-loving resolutions are made with warmth and understanding of the bumpy path you will travel to get there. Setbacks are expected and greeted as learning experiences. What did you learn when you got derailed from your goal? Do you see an obstacle more clearly now? What can you try next to get around it? Does your goal need to be modified?
When trying something new, approach yourself as you would a friend who is feeling vulnerable. Bring curiosity to your process. Remain committed to relieving your suffering with self-loving actions.
It’s normal for your Inner Critic to continue lurking in the background, grumbling that it could whip you into shape better than this self-love nonsense. The Inner Critic is a fixed element of your mind. It won’t go away, but it will become less dominant as you reorient to self-love. When you judge yourself harshly, just notice the Critic, exhale and pivot your attention back to self-compassion—over and over and over.
Translating your goals from self-critical to self-loving is a mindset transformation that will set you up for success—all year long.
For much more about approaching your habits with compassion, curiosity and commitment, check out my new book, From Hope to Habit: Science-Based Solutions to Live Your Best Intentions. And for personalized guidance in applying these ideas, join my upcoming Habits Deep-Dive Course. I’m here to help you translate your goals from critical to affirming so you can create lasting change that truly makes your life better.
Photo credit: Bart LaRue on unsplash