Let Your Stories Grow Organically

One lesson I have had to learn again and again when writing stories is that they need to grow at their own pace. Maybe that sounds precious and stupid, especially to non-writers, but each story develops in its own way and when I try to rush the process, it shows.

Word limits are not your friend when drafting.

Word limits are necessary for most competitions and publications, but when I am preoccupied with staying within a certain number of words when drafting stories, they suffer. I tend to rush towards the end, as if I’m afraid the story run away from me. It’s ridiculous — especially considering I rewrite stories several times — but it’s an impulse I can’t resist.

http://distinguishedview.com/wp-json/oembed/1.0/embed?url=http://distinguishedview.com/2660-sporting-hill-bridge-rd-thompsons-station-tn-37179/ The solution is to try not to have a specific word limit in mind when writing a first draft.

If this isn’t an option (during my MA I needed to write stories within word limits and usually didn’t have time to try out a few different stories), just be aware of any similar tendencies and think about how to fix them. For me, this means paying extra attention to the ending of my stories and ensuring I have let the plot and characters develop at a believable and comfortable pace.

 

Drafts develop at their own pace.

Sometimes a story comes to me in its entirety quickly and the draft is very similar to the finished piece. Other times, the story reveals itself gradually and takes a lot of work to uncover, often undergoing several transformations throughout the rewriting process.

I have no control over the speed in which a particular story develops and when I try to speed it up, the story feels forced. It’s also more likely to become clichéd.

It can be frustrating when a story isn’t developing as fast as I would like, especially when I’m trying to hit a deadline, but rushing it along never works.

get link The only option is to work on other stories and hope to find one which develops quickly so that I can hit the deadline.

 

Structure is an essential consideration, but isn’t a priority in the first draft.

Some stories have a clear structure from the outset, but others need to find their way. Examining structure and seeing how (or whether) your story fits into a satisfying framework can be a very helpful during later drafts, but trying to force a story into a certain structure during the first draft is likely to make it feel forced and/or cliched.

http://ezeta.com.ar/index.php?option=com_k2 Let your story develop its own structure during the rewriting process. 

When you don’t consciously think about structure when writing the first draft of a story, you will often discover a more interesting and effective structure than you would have chosen. Go with it — even if it seems weird or scary. You can always change it in later drafts if it doesn’t work.

 

Thinking time is vital.

Even when a story develops quickly, the structure is sound and everything seems to be in place, it needs space. It needs time to breathe and grow between rewrites. You need to get away from it for a while — if you can only spare a few days, that’s better than nothing, but take as much time as you can to get some distance.

Getting distance isn’t just about being able to appraise your story with a cool, critical eye. It also allows ideas to marinate in your mind.

When you return to your story, you will have fresh eyes and fresh ideas about how to develop it. You will have appraised more options and your story will be stronger for this extra consideration.

 

Letting stories grow isn’t a mystical process.

It might sound mysterious when I talk about stories growing organically, but it’s really about giving your creative thinking the time and space to come up with interesting choices. You can think of effective solutions when the pressure is off, whereas forcing the process means you are liable to choose the path of least resistance — clichés.

Giving your stories time to grow and yourself time to think will make you a better writer.

Getting Restarted – Slowly

I’m beginning to do more as I recover from being ill, but it’s difficult. My energy is low and I’m frustrated that I can’t do more. I wish I could think more clearly, too. I have so much I need – and want – to do, but my body isn’t cooperating.

I know that pushing myself too far will be detrimental to my health, so I’m trying to take it easy as I recuperate, but my to-do list is stressing me out and I’m worried that tasks will continue piling up until there are so many I won’t be able to cope. My strategy is to prioritise the most important things first, then the tasks which won’t take too much energy. The other stuff will have to wait.

The situation is affecting my mental health and it’s a constant battle to keep perspective.

I know that getting stressed and anxious will result in my getting even less done, but logical observations and emotional reactions are different animals… While I know that prioritising my mental and physical health will help me get more done in the long term, I find it hard to justify sitting back and relaxing when I know I will have to do everything sooner or later.

Looking on the bright side, I feel better this week than I did last week – and last week was great, compared to the week before!

Hopefully the cycle of recovering a little and then getting hit by another virus will be over soon. I’m doing more walking this week and hope to return to gym classes next week, depending on how my chest feels, so my fitness is gradually getting back on track. I’m also making an effort to eat healthily, planning meals with lots of vegetables and cutting back on junk food.

Keeping up self-care takes a lot of effort when I’m feeling under the weather.

I know it helps my mental health when I meditate, repeat affirmations and use my SAD lamp – which probably has a positive effect on my physical health – but finding the energy and motivation seems like a gargantuan task. I have been getting better at it over the past few days though, which is a good sign.

Mental health problems make simple, common things more difficult and physical illness is a prime example.

I have to find the energy to look after my mental health as well as my physical health, which probably isn’t a consideration for most people suffering from a winter virus. Plus I have no idea whether my current lack of energy is 100% due to the virus, or if it is being caused by my depression worsening. It’s hard to tell when most people feel tired and demotivated when they are ill; I hope these symptoms will disappear when the virus finally goes, but I’m also afraid that they won’t.

Don’t Label Me by Calling My Diagnosis a Label

When I scroll through the comments on Facebook posts about mental illness in general and borderline personality disorder in particular, there will invariably be at least one remark along the lines of “that’s a terrible label to have to live with.” Even if the subject of the post hasn’t expressed any concerns regarding their diagnosis, some random stranger claims that this diagnosis is a label.

In doing so, they are the ones labelling the person living with borderline personality disorder or other mental illnesses.

I have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and while I understand that some people feel their diagnosis is a label, I have never viewed my diagnosis as anything other than an acknowledgement that my symptoms fit the criteria for a specific medical condition. If you have been diagnosed with BPD (or any other mental illness) and regard it as a label, that’s your prerogative. However, you do not have the right to claim that my diagnosis is a label. Only I get to decide whether that is the case.

 

You might think you are helping by calling a mental illness diagnosis a label, but you are not.

If you insist on referring to a medical diagnosis as a label when there are people who have been diagnosed with the condition who don’t accept this interpretation, you are belittling their experience. It implies that you don’t believe they have a real illness and that their mental health problems are therefore their own fault.

Defining a mental illness as a label reinforces the divide in attitudes towards mental health and physical health. Few people would refer to a diagnosis of a physical illness as a label; it is just as ridiculous and insulting to refer to a mental illness as a label. By referring to mental illnesses as labels, you are perpetuating the stigma surrounding mental health.

 

When you call a diagnosis a label, it suggests that the illness is somehow invalid.

You may have your own complex, political reasons for thinking a certain diagnosis is a label, but most people who hear you refer to mental illnesses as labels will not be aware of them. They will interpret your opinion at face value and assume you mean that certain mental illnesses are not real. This is very damaging.

 

When people start to think of mental illnesses as labels, they overlook the suffering experienced by people who have mental illnesses.

With personality disorders in particular, they assume that people who have been diagnosed are merely eccentric or unconventional and are labelled as having a personality disorder in order to single them out. They think the diagnosis means that people with personality disorders are being told that their personality is flawed. This is not the case: diagnosis of personality disorders, like any medical diagnosis, is based on the presentation of specific symptoms.

These symptoms are frequently distressing and cause pain. They are not aspects of an eccentric personality. Referring to personality disorders as labels ignores the pain and distress caused by the symptoms.

 

Personality disorders are widely misunderstood – and referring to the diagnosis of a personality disorder as a label propagates this misunderstanding.

I am ashamed to say that I avoid mentioning my diagnosis of borderline personality disorder when I first meet people, though I talk openly about anxiety and depression. The reasons for my uncharacteristic taciturnity are that borderline personality disorder is difficult to explain in a few minutes and the name conjures up a lot of assumptions, misinformation and prejudice. Including the notion that it is a label rather than an actual medical condition.

I have had people make comments along the lines of “well, we all have different personalities” which demonstrate that they believe my mental illness is some type of personality definition, in much the same way as the results of the Briggs-Myers test (I’m an INFP, by the way). The name borderline personality disorder doesn’t help, but the lack of awareness is exacerbated by people referring to it as a label on social media.

 

Whether you consider your diagnosis a label is up to you – but mine is not.

What makes me angry is that I wouldn’t have to put up with this crap if borderline personality disorder was a physical illness. There may be a few crackpots who refer to diabetes and cancer as labels, but people pay less attention to them. The stigma surrounding mental health means that those who refer to mental illnesses as labels get an unjustified amount of attention; people are less likely to disregard them because thinking of mental illnesses as labels feeds into old prejudices about mental health.

Regardless of whether you intend to reinforce the myths that mental illnesses aren’t real and people should just get on with it, that is the effect you create when you refer to a mental health diagnosis as a label.

Of course, if you consider your mental health diagnosis a label, you have every right to voice your opinion. But that doesn’t mean everyone who has been diagnosed with the same condition considers it a label. When people tell me my mental illnesses are labels (which happens with anxiety and depression, though less often than with borderline personality disorder), it is disrespectful and potentially harmful.

Being told my illnesses are labels reminds me of myself pre-diagnosis, when I felt isolated and thought I was a freak; when I thought my illnesses were signs of some inner flaw. Diagnosis helped me move past that. You might feel labelled by your diagnosis, but I felt acknowledged. People were finally listening to me and I was reassured that I was suffering from mental health problems, rather than being some kind of mutant. It gave me hope that I could manage my mental health and perhaps recover. When you refer to my conditions as labels, you threaten that hope and reassurance.

 

Maybe diagnosis was a negative experience for you, but for many of us it is a positive step. By calling all diagnoses of a particular mental illness labelling, you negate our experience and silence us.

Don’t project your issues onto me or anyone else with mental health problems. Don’t assume that everyone’s experience is similar to yours and that everyone regards their diagnoses in the same way. Also be aware of the effects of referring to mental illnesses as labels: every time I read a comment like “that’s a terrible label to live with” I think “yes, because of people like you belittling my experience and perpetuating prejudice.”

Please don’t call my diagnosis a label – for me, it’s not.

 

 

 

My Writing Goals for 2017

I enjoyed some small writing successes in 2016, but I think I should have done better. Perhaps that’s the perfectionist streak in me speaking, but when I look back I see lots of room for improvement. Here are the key mistakes I made:

 

  1. I wasted too much time doubting myself

I would have written a lot more if I had just gotten on with it, instead of unleashing an inner monologue of “this is crap, you are a terrible writer, this is a terrible story. Seriously, just delete it all right now. You know nobody will ever want to read it, right? You are wasting your time. If you actually complete this shit and submit it, you will be wasting other people’s time. Who do you think you are, anyway? What right do you have to try and be a writer? Just stop. Right now.”

I know I don’t ask to listen to all that negativity, but I could be more effective in dealing with such unhelpful thoughts.

I find it much easier to ignore the diatribe when a deadline is fast approaching, so I must have some control over whether to listen. The voice also pipes up when I’m preparing to submit something, telling me not to bother (especially if I have to pay a competition fee). I let it win too many times.

 

  1. I didn’t submit enough

Self-doubt aside, I simply didn’t put my work in front of people as often as I should have done. I should have entered more competitions, submitted to more literary journals and anthologies, etc. When I got rejections, I let time slip by before resubmitting stories.

I limited my chances of success by not submitting as much or as often as I could have submitted.

 

  1. I neglected my major project

In the midst of rewriting my novel, I got stuck. I didn’t know whether the plot was working or if it was worth trying to fix it. Something stopped me from giving up completely, but I set the novel aside for a long time.

Towards the end of the year, I did an online novel editing course with Writers HQ and realised that I wasn’t alone in getting stuck and that I could fix the problem. I created a clear plan for rewriting my novel – now I just need to rewrite it!

While I acknowledge that I didn’t have the tools available to fix my plot problems earlier in the year, I regret neglecting the novel for so long. I’m sorry that I lost confidence in it.

 

So here’s what I aim to do differently this year:

 

  1. Prioritise my novel

I need to complete the novel to a decent standard ASAP – for my own sanity, if nothing else! It’s partly a test of whether I can make it as a novelist: the only previous novel I have finished turned out to be a 50,000 word novella after editing. I need to prove to myself that I can write a novel.

Of course, ideally, it will be good enough to get me an agent and a publishing deal… But it’s the completion which matters first and foremost, which means I must prioritise the novel above all my other writing projects and most other things in my life.

 

  1. Submit frequently and regularly

The more I submit, the more chance I will have of placing in competitions and/or getting stories published. It sounds so simple when I write it out, but takes a lot of effort to put into effect.

I will strive to complete work and submit it, then continue submitting each story until it succeeds.

 

  1. Consider my choices carefully

I’m becoming more aware of so-called opportunities which give writers a raw deal. These include competitions with relatively high entry fees and a low prize pot, which are obviously best avoided, but there are some grey areas. For example, many literary journals don’t offer payment for publishing stories. They claim that the writer gains “exposure” which can help their careers, but the value of this is uncertain.

I have been published online without getting paid, which I didn’t mind because it was for a website which I respect and I had only one publishing credit at the time. It also allowed me to show my work to people who had expressed an interest, such as acquaintances and friends of my parents. However, nowadays I would have to be convinced that publication has definite benefits for me at this point in my career if I’m not getting paid.

So my goal is to consider which opportunities are best for my career and which aren’t worth the hassle.

If I get the chance to be published in a literary journal which doesn’t offer payment but which I respect and has a good readership, for example, that would probably be a positive step for my career. However, you can bet your bottom dollar that I will try my luck in paid markets first!

 

My writing goals for 2017 will change and adapt as the year progresses, but I’m driven to do better than last year. I suppose my main goal is simple: improvement.

How to Set Goals on Your Terms

Everyone seems to be talking about New Year’s Resolutions at the beginning of the year, whether they are setting their own or mocking other people for making them. The same stuff gets churned out year after year, as if achieving goals can be addressed with a one-size-fits-all mentality – yet year after year, most people fail to achieve their goals.

I believe the most effective approach is a personal one. Instead of listening to whatever guru is currently on television, turn to the premier expert on you: yourself.

 

  1. Figure out what YOU want

A lot of noise gets created by the media, social media, advertising, your family and friends, etc. We are bombarded with a lot of messages about what we “should” want: a thin body, a romantic relationship, children, a big house, a fancy car, designer clothes, luxury holidays… These things are sold as solutions to our problems and all too often, we accept that at face value because it’s easy and seems to work for everyone else.

You need to step back and question these assumptions. Why do you want any of the above? How would it change your life? How would it make you feel? Might there be different effects to the ones shown in glossy magazine images?

Pinpoint what you ultimately want, rather than thinking a certain goal equates to happiness. If you would like a new relationship, for example, how would you like to feel in that relationship? Supported, cherished, secure? Consider whether other things could be more effective in helping you achieve those feelings. I’m not saying you shouldn’t want a relationship or anything else listed above; I’m saying you need to work out why you want it and keep an open mind as to how you might achieve that why.

If questioning yourself doesn’t change your mind, that’s great! It means you want to achieve your goal for the right reasons and have clarified the specifics. For instance, if companionship is a priority for you in a relationship, you may not want to pursue a relationship with someone who works away for months at a time. You have a clearer vision.

However, if you have changed your mind about what you want, that’s great too! Don’t be afraid to search away from the beaten track. Who cares if other people don’t understand why you are choosing a specific goal? As long as it makes you happy, it’s all that matters. Besides, quirkier goals are usually more fun!

 

  1. Do your research

Has anyone achieved your goal? For most goals, the answer is yes. Seek these people out, online and real life. Find out how they succeeded and what they wish had happened in a different way. Ask for advice. Gather all the information you can at first, then select what is most relevant to you and your situation.

If your goal has never been achieved by anyone (gold star for you!), research people who have achieved similar goals. In fact, a lot of information and inspiration can be gleaned from reading about successes which appear different to what you want to achieve. Whatever your goal, factors like determination and confidence are bound to be issues.

It can help to divide your research into practical aspects and mental/emotional considerations. While there may be overlapping, it is helpful to organise your material this way because practicalities and mental/emotional concerns require different approaches. Further subdivisions can also be useful, as tackling your goal in smaller chunks makes it more manageable.

 

  1. Play to your strengths

What works best for you? What are your skills? Which of your personality traits can be characterised as strengths? How have you achieved goals in the past?

All of these things can help you tailor how you approach your goal to your own needs and idiosyncrasies. For example, if you struggle to get up in the morning, perhaps early runs aren’t the best strategy for you to get fit – exercising later in the day would suit you better and make you more likely to stick with your goal. The idea is to incorporate your goal into your life as seamlessly as possible – it doesn’t mean achieving your goal will be easy, but it will make things a little easier and increase the chances of achieving your goal.

Refer to your research: have other people used strategies which might work well for you? How have people with similar lifestyles or personalities achieved their goals? Are there any deal-breakers which you will need to fulfil in order to avoid failure?

 

  1. Define what success means to you

How will you know when you have achieved your goal? The answer is obvious for some goals, like running a marathon, but can be open to interpretation with other goals. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, what indicates success? A certain number on the scales? A clothing size? Define what you want.

If your goal is more difficult to measure, you may need to create your own subjective scale. For instance, if you want to simply be happier, how will you know? Our moods fluctuate and memories of emotional states are unreliable. Perhaps you could measure your happiness by the number of times you have had fun over a week. Or you could use a scale of one to ten to rate your level of satisfaction with different areas of your life.

It’s up to you how you define and measure your goal – just choose a mechanism which works for you.

 

  1. Don’t be afraid to experiment and re-evaluate

Finding what works for you is reliant on trial and error. Don’t waste time playing it safe – if a strategy intrigues you, try it out as an experiment for a certain period of time. You have nothing to lose by trying something different for a week or two, but you could gain a lot if the strategy works well.

A word of caution: the time period of your experimentations depends on your goal and the new strategy you are trying out. Changing your diet for 3 days, for example, is not helpful in finding out whether it can sustain long-term weight loss. On the other hand, it may be long enough to establish that a new sleep routine works for you. Don’t give up your experiments too early – unless they are having a significant detrimental effect.

Make notes on what you try and the results. It’s useful to be able to refer back to them weeks or months later, when you might be facing a plateau in reaching your goal and need to assess why previous strategies you have used did or didn’t work. Keeping a record of your experimentations also helps capture ideas on what you could try in future – sometimes strategies which didn’t work at the beginning of the year can be ideal later on.

 

  1. Track your progress

A major reason for defining your goal and how to measure your success is so that you can record your progress. This helps keep you motivated and accountable. It stops you from carrying on regardless of whether your efforts are producing results.

Decide how often you want to track your progress. Weekly check-ins work well, because they keep your goal at the forefront of you mind, but fortnightly or monthly records might be more appropriate – it depends on your goal. Use a timescale which suits you, as long as you track your progress regularly.

Use a method of recording your progress which suits you. A gorgeous notebook might motivate you to take the time to detail your success, or using a smartphone app might provide a hassle-free and convenient way to track progress. Whatever method you use, keeping it simple will probably help you stick at it.

 

  1. Keep going!

I know I’m pointing out the obvious, but people often overlook the fact that most success is due to consistency. Hard work and determination go a long way. There are no shortcuts to achieving any goal that’s worth achieving – otherwise everyone would be doing it easily.

Sure, factors like luck can play a part, but even if you get a lucky break, you need to be ready for it. You need to have done the grunt work behind the scenes so that when a record producer asks to hear your demo tape, you can place a professional quality showcase of your talents straight into his hands. Some people might get quite far on charm and no substance, but they are rare and would go much further if they backed it up with other skills.

If you quit, the only person you are hurting is you. The world doesn’t care that you could have been the next great scientific genius or whatever – they will only care if you stick with your goal and produce great work.

Everyone has potential – but realising that potential is rare.

Choose to be one of the few who reach their potential, or at least a good percentage of their potential. Strive towards your goals and when you get knocked back, keep going. You can do it.

 

 

 

 

 

My Crappy Christmas

Christmas did not go according to plan. It wasn’t disastrous in a good story kind of way – nothing dramatic happened, there were no embarrassing incidents which become amusing with hindsight and there was nothing unique about the situation. Instead, Christmas was ruined in the most mundane way possible: my whole family got a flu-type virus.

The dog was fine.

My mum and I worked extra hard to force ourselves to make preparations. I ensured I had plenty of delicious vegan food available – only to completely lose my appetite from afternoon on Christmas Day. I didn’t feel like eating my favourite foods: homemade stuffing, trifle, sprouts (yes, honestly – I know, I’m weird), cranberry sauce, mince pies… Instead, I have been living on Marmite on toast for the past week.

The lack of appetite has its advantages – I have lost a couple of pounds, kickstarting my New Year’s resolution to lose more weight.

If that had been the only symptom, the illness would have been annoying but bearable. But no, I have also been kept awake by constant coughing fits. I thought the cough I had before Christmas was bad, but this one has been kicked into hyperdrive.

I spent 5 nights downstairs on the couch, watching television until I felt too tired to concentrate and then lying in the dark hoping to snooze for a couple of minutes between coughing. I discovered that I love Rebel Wilson – I watched Pitch Perfect, Pitch Perfect 2 and How to Be Single on consecutive nights. I sucked mentholated sweets, hoping I wouldn’t fall asleep and choke on them but also acknowledging that death would provide me with relief from the BLOODY COUGHING.

I feel entirely stuffed up with catarrh – including my brain. I had to abandon my photography course assignment, resigning myself to failure, until my mind cleared a smidgeon on Saturday night and I managed to complete it in a frenzy. Yep, while other people were partying on New Year’s Eve, I sipped a (non-alcoholic) ginger beer and tried to write something about my selected photos which made sense. I paused briefly to acknowledge Big Ben’s chimes on television and wish my parents happy New Year, before returning to my assignment and submitting it online at 1:24am.

I still feel pretty crap, but am functioning a little better. I think I managed to sleep for at least 3 hours last night, which helps. I’m frustrated because I wanted to achieve so much over Christmas, but simply couldn’t do anything constructive. Or anything apart from drink hot Ribena and watch endless episodes of The Big Bang Theory.

I’m hoping to recover fully ASAP, so that I can be more productive and make progress towards achieving my New Year’s resolutions…

New Year, New Me? No, Thanks.

 

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.