Being your best self without resolutions

Published 8:19 am Monday, January 1, 2024

By Chris Adams

I don’t remember the last time that I made a New Year’s resolution. It was probably in high school, and it was most certainly meaningless. I gave up the practice when it dawned on me that these resolutions only set us up for failure and disappointment because we are always going to break the little promises we make to ourselves. It’s a part of our nature. We can always find ways around our self-imposed boundaries, and once we do, that sickening feeling of guilt starts to fill our bellies and we either give up the resolution or we rationalize our transgressions.

Maybe you are one of the elite few who make a resolution, stick to it, and sail through the next year without hiccup or error. If that’s you, I offer you a spirited ‘Congrats!’ but turn my attention to the rest of us, the vast majority of folks who don’t stick to their resolutions. I’ve paid enough therapists all across the country to know that I am my own worst critic. When sleepless nights come like an oppressor, it’s easy to replay the day, or the last several days, and think of all the things done wrong. All of the frustrations. All of the shame. All of the things that we do that we believe make us deficient or broken.

But we all know that dwelling on our failures and allowing them to control our sense of self doesn’t help us grow. When we survey ourselves looking for brokenness, we’ll find it, and then some. This vicious cycle keeps on moving, and we end up going over our lives with a fine-tooth comb, hoping to root out all that we think ruins us.

That is such an exhausting way to live. It’s exhausting to believe that such self-criticism and self-loathing is the ticket to personal growth. That kind of thinking oppresses us, like a 20-pound weight sitting on our chest. With that weight on our chest, our lungs can’t expand, and we can’t breathe fully, and thus we are robbed of vitality. So too with unhinged self-criticism. It keeps us from living fully. It keeps us from expanding the lungs of our vitality, and we are suffocated because of it.

Forget the resolutions. Forget the unhelpful self-criticism. Let go of the ultimately destructive sense of self-loathing. One of the best pieces of advice my therapist has given me is that I should love myself and care for myself in the same way I love and care for my parishioners. Which is to say, I should actually love myself, and be gentle with the way I challenge myself. I should offer grace to myself in the same way I offer grace to others. I should cheer myself on, not shout myself down when I stumble.

The same goes for you, dear friends. You have the freedom to become the best version of yourself, and you don’t need a resolution to get you there.  You need to love yourself enough to believe you are worthy of a beautiful and wonderful life. You need to give yourself grace along the journey to stumble and fall. Don’t take score when you fail. Take score when you succeed. Build for yourself a beautiful mosaic of self-care and self-love, so that when you inevitable stumble, you will remember that you are more than your failures. You are more than who you are on your worst day. You are a beloved child of God, beautiful to behold. You have light and life to offer the world. Your life matters.

Chris Adams is the Rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.