New year, new you! Fresh start! Today is the first day of the rest of your life!
These were the magazine headlines that screamed up at me while waiting in line at the grocery store, signaling the season when many of us make New Year’s resolutions.
This year, 60 percent of Americans will seek to make some kind of life change starting January 1. I used to be among them. Turning over the calendar to a new year offered an alluring promise that this was the year I would finally become my best self.
Always an overachiever, I didn’t limit making resolutions to once a year. I made them every day. Sometimes every hour. My stream of consciousness was filled with constant promises to exercise more. Be a more patient parent. Eat more kale. Give more time to important causes. Do something about the dark circles under my eyes.
I told myself that if I did all these things, I could finally relax and enjoy life because there would be nothing left to improve. I would have climbed the mountain and could sit back to enjoy the view from the top, or maybe write a best-selling book sharing the secrets of my success.
The problem was that as I climbed, the mountain only got higher. Or if I did reach the summit, I’d spot a new peak across the valley and decide that was actually where I needed to put my efforts.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel like I should be doing more. Even moments of well-deserved peace and relaxation only come after a battle to shut down the nagging narrative of self-improvement. Then, just when I think I’ve shaken it loose, there it is again whispering in my ear, “Not enough, not enough.”
While I spent years of my life trusting this voice, like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, every year it let me down. You see, it leaves no room for celebrating accomplishments, instead pointing out how far you still have to go. It smirks and tells you that small, incremental change is for amateurs and, instead, urges you to go all-in on total transformation. It spins tantalizing tales of how happy you’ll be once you make that first million, get your pre-baby body back, or find your dream job — all in the next six weeks!
I mean, everyone else on the Internet is doing it, so why not you?
In the past, I found comfort in the endless chain of overambitious goals I set for myself. Each one carried the promise of unlocking the secret to becoming the fully optimized version of myself. I was so close to living my best life; all I needed was a completely new one.
The thing is, I am generally healthy, happy, and successful. This has not happened by chance, but because I’ve taken the steps to build a fulfilling life over time. I’ve done the work to build relationships I cherish, a career I enjoy, and the resilience to weather tough times. Yet the bar keeps moving. I have only to achieve a goal when a new one appears, usually on Instagram.
“Should I be doing that too?” I ask myself as I scroll through posts of yoga retreats, juice fasts, and jade eggs.
There is constant pressure to show we know how to lead a perfect life. And while deep down we know perfection is a myth, we still feel like failures when we’re unable to become our fantasy selves.
This is not only demoralizing, but it’s also downright damaging. We’re seeing unprecedented rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. Body dysmorphia is on the rise, especially among teenage girls. Half of all Americans report feeling lonely or left out.
Alongside these startling trends, the self-improvement movement has blossomed into a $10 billion dollar industry. While we’re spending more time and money than ever trying to become better versions of ourselves, as a whole we’re feeling worse.
This is not to say that change is never needed.
Sometimes, we’re unhealthy or unhappy and a dramatic transformation is needed, like ending a toxic relationship or losing a significant amount of weight after a health scare. More often, though, we’re trying so hard to live our best life that we forget to enjoy the one we actually have.
This year, then, no resolutions. In all honesty, I stopped making them at New Year’s long ago. But this year, no resolutions, period. No new skincare routine, gym membership, or plant-based diet. No books about finding inner peace or becoming a better parent. No five-year plans or long-term visions.
This is the year of showing up for my life just as I am and knowing that’s enough.