In January of 2016, my sister and I stumbled into the best New Year’s resolution I’ve ever made.
What arrived in the form of a problem—what to get our non-materialistic mother for Christmas—quickly transformed into a yearlong, joint effort of conducting one act of kindness each day. Although we initially came to the idea as a way to “pay forward” our mom’s kindness, it became a resolution that would change the way we lived.
Instead of worrying about losing weight, hitting the gym, or restructuring my finances, I planned to surprise people I loved (also total strangers) with kind acts that would put smiles on their faces. The project brought me joy in a way that no other New Year’s resolution ever had. Like most resolutions, it faltered over the course of the year, but the kindness project started my new year on the right foot, which is exactly what we hope for from a resolution.
I saw firsthand the effects of a positive resolution despite our overwhelming tendency to focus on negatives that need fixing. We vow to lose weight, spend less, give fewer hours away online. But we rarely hear of people resolving to add things to their life: to be kind each day, indulge in a little more self-care, or have a bit more patience.
“People were limiting themselves by setting these types of resolutions,” says Tama Kieves, a wellness coach and author of “A Year Without Fear: 365 Days of Magnificence”. “I want you to drop your predictable goals and drop your jaw in awe when you see what you can really have this year.”
Kieves says that it’s easiest to focus on negative-based goals because it’s easy to focus on things that are imperfect or uncomfortable in our lives. When setting New Year’s resolutions, she urges people to think about their wildest desires, rather than focusing on habits they’d like to quit.
“When you get excited, you make changes,” she said. Rather than listening to our mind telling us what we “should” be doing, Kieves suggests that we aim for what we ultimately “want” to be doing. The first step, for most people, is identifying such goals.
“Identify your inspired desires, which come from listening to the voice within,” Kieves says.
Of course, that all sounds a little wishy-washy. Making resolutions that are based on shifting something internal rather than achieving a tangible goal can be tough because there is no way to measure success numerically: no scale to step on or bank balance to check.
“It’s a paradigm shift,” Kieves says. “The measures of success are not the same. It really does come down to a feeling. It’s the ultimate relationship with self. Are you feeling stronger, more like yourself, more alive?”
So, what sorts of goals can set you on the path to be more in tuned with yourself in 2017? Perhaps you want to trust your gut or choose love over fear. Reach for those big goals, Kieves says.
In traditional goal setting, there is a focus on small steps in order to accomplish larger goals. Kieves says that this can be applied to more abstract goals as well. You may want to try journaling or a daily meditation practice to keep you on task.
“You’re paying attention to how that feels,” she said. “Maybe you don’t like journaling and want to go for a run. If you are choosing to listen to your inner voice, it will tell you the next step as you’re doing it. That really is the work: having the integrity to follow that voice.”
Kieves often tells clients to make a “win list” at the end of the day. Write down five to ten actions or experiences that made you feel good. This could include anything from going to work even though you felt depressed, or pausing when you would normally react.
“It might not be the year to accomplish something,” Kieves says. “It might be the year to be kind to yourself.”
The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.