It’s two days into the New Year and I’m sick of seeing adverts inviting me to become “a new you” or to start “your new life.” I like setting goals, whether New Year’s resolutions or otherwise, but I hate this emphasis on The New You. Using this language doesn’t evoke transformation – it implies obliteration.
The message is “you need to change every aspect of your being and become someone else.” This is not empowering: it’s impossible. If you aim to become this mythical New You, you are setting yourself up for failure. What a great way to start the year!
Value who you are.
You don’t need to become a New You. No matter how unhappy you are with your life right now, your core being is not the problem. There is nothing inherently wrong with you that needs to be eradicated.
Erasing yourself is not the answer; valuing yourself is the answer.
It’s a hard lesson to learn, but nothing really changes until you learn that you are valuable, useful and worthwhile. Until you decide that you are valuable enough to deserve everything you want, it’s extremely difficult to get anything you want. If you manage to succeed, you will find that the effects aren’t what you’d hope – winning a prize won’t make you value your own achievements.
Losing weight is a common example: when you don’t value yourself, you decide that your life would be perfect if only you were thinner (because you will be more confident, powerful, etc.) and you throw yourself into a punishing regime. Often, you will fail to lose a significant amount of weight because your regime is unrealistic. When a month of starvation results in misery, no energy and just a few measly pounds lost, you give up and believe you are destined to be a failure.
On the other hand, if you hate yourself enough to stick it out and reach your goal, there is a surprise in store: you realise that nothing much has changed. You have some new clothes and a temporary confidence boost (it’s alarming how quickly the confidence wears off after you lose weight), but the same life. The same you.
You react to this problem of the same you in the same way – you find a different aspect of your life to blame for your unhappiness and set out on the same path of punishment and self-sabotage. The self-sabotage can crop up at any time, whether it’s a week into your attempted transformation or months after meeting your goal. You will find yourself adopting unhealthy habits which build more obstacles between you and the mythical New You you are trying to become.
As you probably realise, I have been through this on many occasions. When I was 18, I lost 60lb and thought my life would magically become a life I wanted to live. It didn’t, because I hated myself and hadn’t tackled the underlying problems, which included zero self-esteem and clinical depression.
It was an awful shock to reach the milestone I had been striving towards, only to realise that nothing had changed apart from my dress size and the assumptions ignorant people make based on one’s dress size. I wasn’t even much healthier than when I was overweight, because my weight loss tactic was eating very small amounts of junk food. My mental health problems worsened and I regained all of the weight, plus a lot extra, within a few years.
There are no short cuts or workarounds: you need to start with valuing yourself. So forget all ideas of becoming a New You – aim to be the same you, but better.
Use your goals to become closer to your true self.
Forget creating a New You from scratch – instead, focus on getting closer to who you really are. Think about what you want, not what the media, advertising and other people tell you to want. What would you like to do more? What would you prefer to do less? Move towards the things which are working in your life and away from the things which aren’t.
Don’t fall into the trap of doing what everyone seems to be telling you to do at this time of year. Even if you want to lose weight (I do – healthily and permanently, this time), it doesn’t mean you have to join one of the slimming clubs advertised on TV and join a gym. You can find the methods which work best for you, without paying undue attention to all the crap flying about.
If it helps, take time to consider what you want – many people seem to have the attitude that New Year’s resolutions involve throwing yourself in the deep end, but that is not the only option. You have time to research, make small adjustments, experiment, etc. and still achieve your goals by the end of the year.
Embrace who you are and what works best for you.
If diving in at the deep end is the most successful strategy for you personally, go for it. If you are more likely to reach your goals by making slow and steady progress, do so. I suspect most of us flourish from a combination of big and small changes at different times – but remember that the ultimate change, the mythical New You, is impossible.
Become a better version of you.
Instead of chasing the mythical New You, work on becoming a better version of who you already are. Because you are pretty awesome. Seriously. Everyone has admirable personality traits, talents and skills; make a list of your own if you need reminding.
Consider how you can focus on these strengths and use them to make changes in your life.
Achieving goals involves working out how to incorporate them into your current life. Your life may change as you progress towards achieving goals, but you will always have this starting point. You need to create a path leading from here and now to the life you want. It goes back to learning to value yourself – you also need to value your life as it is right now, even if you don’t like it very much. You can’t exchange it for a new one.
I’m not saying you should dream small – far from it! – but you need to figure out how to get from your current life to your dream life.
Stop thinking of yourself and your current life as things you are stuck with, but don’t buy into the fantasy of a blank canvas either. Instead, consider your current situation and your core being as materials which you can sculpt. You can’t change the molecular structure of these materials, but you can shape them into something beautiful.
I realise now that I don’t want a blank canvas. I’m enjoying sculpting my life. The materials are more interesting, problematic as they may be, and the flaws have their own beauty. I’m learning to chisel away the negative stuff and to polish the best material so that it shines.
Use the materials you already have and value their colours, shapes and textures. Say “no, thanks” to the mythical New You advertisers are trying to sell.