There’s nothing quite as exciting as a blank slate—the unblemished expanse of a new notebook, the unbroken surface of a fresh face cream, the thrilling vacancy of an unfurnished apartment. And best of all, the infinite resolutions of a new year. We all tell ourselves that this will be the year we get healthier, read more books, or just generally get our life together. Mainstream media is full of the message that a new year is a fresh start, a chance to leave the past behind, and transform yourself. But as someone who has struggled historically with self-acceptance and loving myself, the idea of transformation is more harmful, than helpful.
After my first breakup in college, my mental health was in a very bad place. I was extremely alone, directionless, and bankrupted of any self-assurance I had. As I laid in my bed night after night, spiraling into a vortex of self-loathing and anxiety, I would press my face against my pillow to soak up my tears. What is wrong with you, I would think to myself, this is why no one wants to love you. That year, my New Year's resolutions were to work on getting a booty, fix my acne, get my life together, and to stop being an annoying and horrible person. My New Year’s transformation fantasy was of being someone with a girl gang of besties, who was worthy of a loving partner, and who knew exactly what she wanted in life— someone who didn’t feel like they were about to fall apart at the seams all the time. I didn’t want to just shed a skin of emotional trauma and a year of crippling depression; I wanted to be an entirely new person.
Now, after years of struggling to interrupt my self-loathing internal dialogue and to accept myself, New Year’s transformations hold no appeal to me. I don’t want to be a “new” person. My desire for transformation when I was at my lowest was rooted in changing myself into someone I thought would be easier to love. And now that I actually like and accept myself, I don’t think I need to transform. But don’t get me wrong, I think that it’s a great idea to set intentions (instead of resolutions) for yourself for the new year. Maybe you’d like to work on your negative self-talk. Or maybe you’d like to work on loving yourself. Read below for where to start building intentions for your life this year.
Find a supportive community:
Setting intentions and cultivating self-love can be extremely challenging for most people, especially if you've had a history of self-loathing or depression. According to life coach Nory Pouncil, “It can feel both foreign and 'wrong to prioritize yourself. At the same time, you don't even know if you're doing right." She reassures that it's perfectly normal to feel this way, and that's why it is so important to try different types of self-love practices. And while Instagram only showcases the best parts of people's lives and can lead to comparison, she recommends opting for another social platform: Pinterest. "You can see and learn how other people are cultivating self-love in a way that's easy to digest and fun," she says. "Also, seeing other people's perspective reminds you that you're not alone, and it is okay to nurture your self-love at your own pace.”
Understand your self-loathing:
Self-loathing, believe it or not, is a survival mechanism. Your brain is constantly testing for weaknesses and vulnerabilities, as a way of protecting you. Think of it as your internal constructive critic’s destructive sibling. When trying to find self-love, you need to decouple your mind from the purpose of self-loathing. “Grab the wheel of your life and steer it back in the direction you want to go,” says Matthew Ferry, life-coach and author of Quiet Mind Epic Life.
Think about the language you use with yourself:
According to Dr. Ferry, “When most of us say positive things like I love myself, the nasty talking in your head (I call the voice the Drunk Monkey) will fight back and make snide comments which keep you stuck in self-loathing. Instead, set your intention for self-love using this language gracefully release self-loathing.” When I was working on my self-talk, I would tell myself that, “I might not like myself all the time, but I’m going to like myself right now.”
Don’t trust the voice in your head:
“Consider that your mind is not your friend,” Dr. Ferry suggests. “Set your intention to stop listening to your mind like it is your friend or that has anything nice to say. For the most part, it doesn’t. The Drunk Monkey in your head is a talking machine that shares its negative opinions on everything. Let’s be honest, if your friends called you fat or stupid, they would no longer be your friends.” This one is difficult. My tactic for breaking negative self-talk was to take a deep breath, just admit that I was having a hard time, and forgive myself for having a hard time. I would imagine folding up my negative thoughts like a little paper boat, and setting it away in a river, until it was out of sight. I wouldn’t always feel better, but it was a way of stopping a bad thought in its tracks, and trying again.
Take away your self-loathing’s power by making light of it:
“Make fun of how irrational and critical your mind is,” Dr. Ferry tells us. “Start to be entertained by the ridiculous things it says about you. Once you see that The Drunk Monkey is an opinion generating machine, you’ll stop giving so much weight.” When I tried this in real life, I tackled my insecurity over my adult acne. My tactic was to give my zits a funny name, call them my friend, and post a selfie of myself with my zit. Actively choosing to think in a humorous way, in spite of how uncomfortable I felt about my skin, I was able to confront a deep insecurity I’ve had in a fun and disarming way.
Find something to be grateful for, small or big:
Pinterest insights indicate people are heading into the New Year in search of ways to stay motivated and inspired with searches for “daily inspiration quotes motivation” increasing 6x* and are practicing some self-love with “working on myself quotes” up 88%*. According to Dr. Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology at Yale University, gratitude is always a good place to start working on yourself.“Research shows this collective new year optimism provides a powerful opportunity to change our behavior for the better," she says. "In this Pinterest Story Pin, I talk about the power of gratitude. Ultimately, this type of positive mindset shift can significantly boost your wellbeing in as little as two weeks.” This has been so applicable to my life. Gratitude is like a muscle that needs to constantly be exercised: whether it’s gratitude for big things like your health or your family, or little things like having a mouth to eat with, find anything to be grateful for! Or better, yet, start a gratitude journal.
Give credit where credit is due:
Set your intention to practice total and complete acceptance of all people in all situations, including yourself. Self-improvement is difficult, and it can take years of hard work to make meaningful headway! Dr. Ferry encourages us to just say out loud, “I accept that people are doing the best they can. And so am I. Smile and just admit it, I’m evolving. None of us have life figured out! We are all experimenting and seeing what works.” If you think about it, we’re all going to be working on ourselves, forever—it might sound a little daunting, but I think it’s hopeful to remember that we’re all evolving works-in-progress.