Itend to step back from making New Year’s resolutions. I don’t think they’re inherently bad; anything that helps us reach a goal or stay motivated is a wonderful thing. It’s just that, for me, I find them hard to adhere to and always end up feeling like a failure when I inevitably break the long list of promises that I made to myself on 31 December.
Instead, I choose one word which I use to shape the year ahead. I pondered for a few days this time and shortlisted my options down to three words. SELF was the one that kept jumping out at me, despite my efforts to ignore it. Until very recently, it was a word I’d always subconsciously associated with negativity. Self-doubt. Selfish. Self-absorbed. Self-sabotaging.
I grew up with two younger siblings and became a mother just a few weeks after my 17th birthday. Being maternal, responsible and ensuring that other people’s needs were met, often before my own, had been deeply ingrained. Last year, putting myself first was something I forced to sit with and, after doing a lot of emotional work, the outcome was surprisingly positive.
Although I do love a good bath, usually with a book in one hand and a brew in the other, that form of self-care isn’t the one I’m focusing on for now. I function at my best when I’m organised; this includes my practical surroundings. Living among needless clutter causes me a great deal of frustration so I make it my priority to create a clean, tidy environment that I feel comfortable in.
Another thing I’m slowly learning is to embrace saying no. I’ve spent most of my life harbouring an unhelpful belief that saying no is churlish and impolite. While kindness and compassion remain my core values, the ones which steer the choices I make, it was incredibly freeing to learn that I can be kind and sincere and still have solid boundaries in place to protect myself from drowning in the process. It’s ok to say, “I don’t have the capacity for this right now.”, whether that’s emotionally or practically.
It goes without saying that this is a nuanced subject and when the relevant situation calls for it, of course I’d be available to support others. What I’m working on is learning to be actively selective about where I put my energy; I’m no longer jumping in and immediately agreeing to every single request without stepping back to weigh up my own priorities and wellbeing first.
Most people are familiar with that nagging little voice that likes to trash talk you and shatter your self-esteem without warning. The one that tells you you’re not good enough or that no-one likes you or that you’re shit at your job or a terrible friend or whatever other poison it decides to feed your mind that day.
It takes a lot of strength to challenge those intrusive thoughts and I’m now well versed in telling mine to fuck off when needed. A lot of the negative chatter that we harbour stems from internalised shame, which is created by other people’s opinions. My view is that you simply cannot govern what other people think of you, whether their opinion is ‘correct’ or not. Frustrating? Yes. But is there anything you do about that? No. Once you learn to let go of trying to control it, the whole process becomes a lot easier.
This applies to loads of different scenarios. I know that going for a walk can elevate my mood dramatically but trying to actually motivate myself to get out of the door is another story (that’s off the cards right now due to our household being COVID-ridden so instead, I’m making sure I push myself to do short online workouts while isolating). I’ll never be ‘into’ fitness but the pay off is always worth that internal battle because it’s those darker days when I don’t want to move at all that it matters the most.
I’m also practising self-discipline online by curating my feeds and limiting time spent on social media. Too many times I’ve found myself ‘doomscrolling’ Twitter and getting outraged at whatever topical news is trending. I occasionally slide back towards Facebook from sheer boredom and am immediately filled with regret after seeing someone kick off about a Creme Egg advert or flinging venomous insults at strangers for sharing opinions on the local community page.
I actively make the choice to log off and stop consuming content that doesn’t make me feel good. I try to make sure I do something more beneficial to my mental health instead, such as embroidery, calling a friend, reading a book or watching an episode of ‘Schitt’s Creek’. The block and mute buttons are extremely handy tools too.
Self-reflection takes work and can be a hard pill to swallow. No-one likes to address their shadows. When I find myself annoyed or hurt by someone else, I’ve started to look inwards and ask myself honestly, ‘Why has this sparked such a strong response in me?’.
Make no mistake; this does not mean that others shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions. It means looking deep at what triggered my reaction and working on whatever part of myself needs attention at any given moment- that could be my own insecurity, resentment, fear, humiliation, guilt, envy or feelings of disempowerment.
This allows me to authentically understand who I am and keep on growing from a place of love (Nic over at Two Womb Club shared an excellent blog on this recently), as opposed to using passive-aggressive behaviour born from not honouring or communicating my true feelings. The outcome can only be a good thing for my future self and those around me.