It’s January 1, and if you’re pretty much anywhere on social media, you’re reading about resolutions.
I never make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I decided that I wanted to try my hand at it again. I’ve never been very good at making or keeping resolutions, and when you combine that with my need to be perfect in everything I do, well…it’s basically just a set-up for unreasonable stress and anxiety.
And if you’ve ever set a resolution yourself, you know that after even just a little bit of time, they stop working. Why is that?
We set ourselves up for failure when we make New Year’s resolutions for a few reasons:
- They’re too broad
- They’re too drastic of a behavioral shift
- We don’t build systems of support and accountability
But most importantly: New Year’s resolutions don’t work because we don’t give ourselves space to not succeed.
We set these huge mandates for ourselves, expecting our behavior to change automatically overnight, without any struggle at all. And that just isn’t realistic — changing our habits and behavior takes a lot more work, and we have to acknowledge that failure or “slipping up” is a part of that. We need to be okay with failing.
In the United States, our entire culture — especially for Millenials — revolves around success. And that success usually isn’t defined by ourselves, it’s defined in relation to what other people think it should be. We apply for a promotion because other people tell us we should, we juggle too many obligations to show how skilled we are at managing large loads, and even when we do reach typical markers of success, we feel like we haven’t done well enough.
In 2016, a survey conducted by Dr. Stuart Slavin found that 80% of surveyed high school students experienced moderate to severe anxiety — the majority of which was caused by school and the need to succeed. The need to be successful is literally making us sick — and it’s only going to get worse.
The success drive is exactly why I never set New Year’s resolutions. But this year, I decided to give myself some grace: Instead of setting big, vague resolutions that I didn’t really care about, I decided to take a different approach.
For nearly all of December, I took stock of what was happening in my life — and there was a lot. I came home from a vacation, went to a conference, started a new contract role, tried desperately to catch-up on work, and then got sick — all before we even got to the weekend before Christmas.
Nearly all of the negative things happening in my life — being behind on work, getting sick, and the handful of panicked meltdowns I had — were the result of me not paying attention to what I needed or wanted. For pretty much my entire life, I’ve focused so much on running toward someone else’s idea of success that I never stopped to think about what it meant for me.
So this year, I wrote resolutions that each answered one question: How can I reduce my daily stress levels?
The list is long, but here are a few examples:
1. Pay off my credit card debt by the end of the year
In 2016, I built up a large amount of credit card debt. I’ve been steadily paying it off, and I’m finally getting close. Once I’m done, I can focus on my student loans, buying my first car, and saving. Money has always been a huge source of stress and anxiety for me, so working through this one has already helped my mental health.
2. Take time to stretch in the mornings
Once upon a time, I was really active — I went to the gym for 1-2 hours each day and did several hours of dance classes each week. Now, not so much. I can’t touch my toes anymore, and I can tell that my reduced flexibility has impacted my daily pain levels. Instead of jumping out of bed to get ready for work, I’d like to take a few intentional minutes to warm up my muscles.
3. Take one tech-free day each month
There are some months where I work seven days per week, and well over 10-12 hours per day. That’s ridiculous. I’m going to try to reduce my workload, but I’m not making that a resolution (I know myself better than that). Instead, I’m going to take one tech-free day each month. I’ll put my phone on do not disturb mode, put away my laptop, and read a book or spend the day outside. I’ve done these in the past, and always felt happier and more relaxed for it.
4. Be sexy just for myself
When I feel sexy, I feel powerful. But most days, I feel actively unsexy — I’m in pain, or need to shower, or am sick, or am too stressed with work. And that feeling impacts my relationship with myself and my relationship with my partner. I’ve typically combatted this feeling by taking one day every several months where I’ll dress in a way that feels sexy to me. But I’ve never really done that just because I want to — it often comes from a place of feeling obligated. So this year, I’m going to practice sexiness just for my own sake. Side note: I have an entire list of resolutions that are sex-related, and I’ll be talking about them live on O.School on Tuesday, January 2, at 7 pm ET.
5. Exercise my empathy muscles
This resolution is a bit backwards. I’ve noticed that the more stressed or overwhelmed I am, the less I am able to empathize with the people around me. I consider myself to be a pretty empathetic person, so whenever I notice this happening, it’s a huge clash with my values. This year, while I’m trying to find ways to reduce stress in other parts of my life, I’m also going to take the time to sit down and simply listen to people more. This won’t directly reduce my stress levels (although there’s a lot to be said for empathy as an exercise in self-understanding) but it will help me feel like I’m living out my values in the way I want to be.
This year, I’m setting resolutions with me in mind — not our success-driven culture.
Here’s to a year of failures, of growth, and of learning.
Happy new year, sex geeks.
PS: If you want to talk more about resolutions that can positively impact your sex life, join my livestream January 2, 2018, at 7 pm ET.