Beyond Resolutions: Unveiling Your Why

January 2024

by marya pennington

As we say goodbye to the joy and wonder of the holiday season, we turn to a new calendar year full of hope and expectation (possibly an extra five pounds, some credit card debt, and a little regret)! January is the month for new beginnings, fresh starts, and a list of resolutions to get us back on the right track. But we are creatures of habit, which makes creating new ones difficult and can leave us feeling worse than when we began. 

Recently, I had the privilege of meeting with Sara Beth Wald, Boundaries and Trauma-Informed Coach and the author of the book Redefining Love, aimed at teaching people how to prioritize their mental health, set boundaries, and hold themselves and others accountable with love and grace. Our discussion centered on the cultural tradition of making New Year’s resolutions and why staying committed to them is so hard. 1 

The Expectations 

Our inability to keep our resolutions or goals is often because we have unreasonable expectations that don’t match our values. “When we make resolutions but don’t think about the underlying reasons for wanting to make them or go deeper to think about the real issue, we feel shame. And if we can’t keep the resolution, we pile on more shame,” says Sara. 

Let me give you an example. Your goal for 2024 is “I am going to stick to my budget this year,” and the expectation is not to spend more than the budget allows. But in reality, having the newest phone, an unexpected new tire expense, or a lack of time to cook or meal plan might be more important, so we eat out every night instead. The expectations are destined to fail because they are not based on realistic expectations. Then, we feel shame for not meeting those expectations and give up. 

The Motives 

Resolutions start with a motive, which can determine your outcome. Sara says, “What is motivating the goal? Is it shame, guilt, obligation, comparison, fear, determination, joy, pleasure, integrity, desperation? There is a difference between resolutions we make for our own benefit, and those that we make for the benefit of others. Can you tell the difference?” 

Are you trying to lose weight because you feel ashamed of how you look compared to others, or do you want to get healthy to keep up with your kids? Are you volunteering to make your community a better place to live, or because all the other PTA moms are doing it, and you worry about how it will look if you don’t? These are two very different motivators.  

The Why 

“It’s time to get curious,” says Sara, “and curiosity is uncomfortable because it is vulnerable.” Brene Brown, a research professor and author of six #1 New York Times bestsellers, says, “I believe that you have to walk through vulnerability to get to courage, therefore…embrace the suck. I try to be grateful every day, and my motto right now is courage over comfort.” 2 

Sara shares 5 curiosity practices to lead you to a place of courage:  
  • Be kind and give yourself some grace 
  • Make space for quiet introspection 
  • Invite conversations with friends or a counselor 
  • Be honest about what you really want 
  • Set realistic goals outside of expectations 

Ultimately, we shouldn’t make any resolutions without first creating an accurate Inventory of our Why. The recommendation? Create a list of resolutions you think you should make, and then dig into why you should make them. Investigate your intention. Look honestly at the reasons behind your resolutions and narrow them down to what’s really important.  

“At the root of every overwhelmed person is an unexplored why. In order to know how to move forward, we must sit quietly in the discomfort of curiosity and be honest with ourselves. When we do this, the answer will float to the top. This kind of work takes courage,” says Sara Beth Wald. 

Take a step back. Find space to breathe. Get curious. Your why is waiting to be discovered. And then… have courage and get to work. 


Originally printed in the January 2024 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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