by Andrea M. Darcy
Tell yourself at the end of every December that it’s time for a “New Year, new you”? Only to end up being the same flawed person as always?
Why does nothing change for you, and what can be done?
Why ‘New Year, new you’ hasn’t worked out
Many of us seem to just give up on ourselves if our resolutions don’t work. A survey by Yougov in the UK found, for example, that while when aged 18 to 24 over a third of us set yearly goals, by aged 55 only ten percent of us still bother.
We miss the crucial fact that our progress isn’t happening not because we are useless and can’t change, but because we are stuck in a pattern.
Patterns come from the past, from unresolved experiences. And they can, with some effort and honesty, be changed.
Changing patterns is indeed so powerful than an entire form of therapy, called ‘schema therapy’, is formed around the concept of recognising and changing patterns.
How to actually break the pattern this year
Having a breakthrough means getting really honest, and taking stock of yourself and your life. How does this best work?
1. Drop the self-judgement.
“New Year, new you” might sound positive, but it also implies the old you was not good enough. So first, note that self-criticism stops us from taking action.
For example, think about what it’s like when your boss suddenly yells at you. Many of us go blank and freeze, or enter denial and protest. Regardless of our response of choice, the end result is the same. We retreat, licking our wounds, and stick our neck out less.
photo by Tim Mossholder for Unsplash
You are effectively sending yourself into constant retreat with your critical inner soundtrack. No wonder you never achieve your goals.
ACTION STEP: Start the process of a New Year, new you with gratitude and self appreciation. Write down five things that happened in the last year that you are actually proud of, and five things you actually like about yourself lately.
2. Now take an honest inventory.
Pretending difficult things we lived through were no big deal might help us cope in the short-term. But in the long term, the emotions and beliefs from unresolved experiences not only can hold us back. They can leave us with constant anxiety and depression.
And if we don’t deal with an experience, we are more likely to then go and repeat it. For example, let’s say you left a relationship this year where you were emotionally abused, and try to just ‘forget about it’. It’s highly likely you’ll just walk right into another unhealthy relationship. Why? You didn’t use the experience as a chance to heal the root cause that sees you choosing such relationships, like unresolved childhood experiences. Or heal the issues it gave you, like low self-esteem. So the cycle just repeats.
ACTION STEP: Sit down and make an honest list of what you experienced in the past year (or past few years if you prefer) that you found upsetting. The things that hurt, the things you wish didn’t happen, the things you feel ashamed of or confused about.
3. Ask good questions.
You are now going to take your list of difficult experiences and turn them into gifts by asking very good questions. This will help you understand, process, and learn from each one, so you can make different choices in this New Year you are entering.
ACTION STEP: For each item on your ‘difficult’ list, ask useful questions that begin with ‘what’ and ‘how’ (avoid ‘why’ questions tend to be rabbit holes or lead to self-judgement). It is best done in a journal.
- How did I find myself in this situation? What steps led to it?
- What assumptions did I make here about myself and others?
- What boundary did I need to set here that I didn’t?
- How might a part of this experience in all honesty be something I actually chose?
- What do I need to forgive myself for here?
- How could I do things differently if I ever end up in a similar situation?
- What did I learn from this that is useful for future choices?
4. Identify the pattern.
When you look at what went wrong for you this last year, are there things that you honestly have experienced for many years before this one, too? Does it seem that you can’t seem to stop repeating certain behaviours or experiences?
Cristian Escobar for Unsplash
ACTION STEP: If there is a pattern, try to identify if there an unresolved difficult childhood experience that might be driving you to repeat it. Do you, for example, always chase unavailable partners as your parents were workaholics who had no time for you?
Schema therapy suggests there are 18 main patterns we can be trapped in, including self-sacrifice (always putting ourselves last) and mistrust (assuming the worst of everyone).
5. Mourn a little. Go on.
Research supports the idea that emotional expression promotes wellbeing and health in many stressful situations. The more emotion you can let go of, the better your chance of actually moving on.
ACTION STEP: Spend an evening at home letting yourself have a little funeral for all the tragedies of the past year. Cry it out, dance it out, punch a pillow, journal, whatever it takes. If you want, do a ritual where you bury or burn a paper with all of your difficult experiences listed on it, all the things you want to move on from.
Find the values and live them to have a New Year, new you at last
Hidden within the way all of these experiences have affected you, and all the choices you have made over the last year, for better and worse? Is a very powerful force indeed. This is your personal value system.
The easiest way to feel good within ourselves and our lives is to align all of our choices and actions with our values.
What have these experiences you went through shown you about what you actually care about? Regardless of what your family, friends, or colleagues care about or think? This could look like safety, freedom, charity. Or connection, generosity, privacy, calm, excitement…. don’t judge yourself.
ACTION STEP: Write out all the things you now think you actually might value. If you aren’t sure, write whatever comes to mind, then read the list aloud. What ones feel good to say? These are likely your values. What things could you choose to work toward in this New Year that would actually match those personal values?
Need support to finally move your life forward this year? Harley Therapy connects you with highly experienced, friendly therapists in three London locations. Travel too much? We can also put you in touch with great therapists via online counselling.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and writer who loves pattern busting. With some training in person-centred therapy and coaching, she now also advises people on creating their therapy journey. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy