"Save money. Lose weight. Have more sex."
According to Statista, these are the three most common New Year’s resolutions people made last year. Ah, New Year’s resolutions—lofty intentions we set at the start of a year, pledging to be better and do better.
It’s a noble thought, at least at face value. But when you really start to think about it, could it be that New Year’s resolutions cause us to become hyper focused on what could be better and distract us from what we’re doing well? Might the “new-year-new-me” cliché pull us away from loving ourselves as we naturally are?
History of New Year’s Resolutions
The origins of New Year’s resolutions date back 4000 years to the ancient Babylonians, though of course, they didn’t call them “New Year’s resolutions." The Babylonians celebrated their new year, which happened to be in the middle of March, with a ten-day festival called Akitu. During Akitu, the Babylonians honored their king and also made promises to the gods. The idea was that as long as they kept their word to repay debts that were owed, the gods would bless them. Let’s just say the consequences of breaking the promises were not desirable.
The Romans, who are responsible for our current calendar, also held New Year’s resolutions in high esteem. Janus, the god after whom January was named, was believed to have two faces. One looked forward into the new year, while one looked backwards into the previous year. As such, it was important for the Romans to proclaim good behavior in the upcoming year and leave their old bad habits behind.
New Year’s Resolutions in the Present Day
Many religious congregations still participate in some form of commitment-making for the new year. For example, some Protestant Christians in the African-American community participate in Watch Night services on New Year’s Eve. At “Watch Night”, as it’s commonly known, people often reflect on ways they could be better in the upcoming year and make proclamations to do so. Some Jewish communities also make resolutions on the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah.
Truth be told, New Year’s resolutions tend to be a predominantly secular activity in the present day. While resolution-making isn’t a traditional component of the Chinese New Year, which begins in late-January or early-February and lasts about 15 days, some people treat this lunar holiday as a sort of do-over if they’ve fallen behind on their New Year’s Day resolutions. As it turns out, 80% of resolution-makers have let go of their promises by mid-February. Considering those terrible odds, perhaps we should examine the relationship between self-improvement and self-love.
Building Habits of Self-Love in the New Year
We asked 10 women and men a series of three questions comparing self-love and self-improvement. All ten respondents expressed a belief that these two concepts are different and that self-love is more important, but responses to the final question were a little more interesting.
A majority acknowledged that self-improvement tends to be the highlight of the new year. But about half followed-up with comments expressing the belief that self-improvement can often be a manifestation of self-love if done in the right way. Here’s what some participants had to say:
- “I’m at the stage of self-improvement motivated by self-love. Self-love makes the improvement process more honest and less painful...It’s easy to be hard on yourself and compare yourself to others. But when you focus on knowing and loving yourself first, the improvement process flows much more easily.”
- “I would say that the two are different. To me, improvement is based on negative traits you’re working to change, while self-love is manifested through the things that you do to maintain positive attributes. But now that I think about it more, maybe self-improvement could be based on highlighting positive traits too!”
So what’s “the right way” to approach self-improvement? Well, of course, each person is different, so what works for one might not work for another. Different strokes for different folks and all. But examples of personal growth rooted in self-love could involve making small changes that help accentuate the things you love about yourself, being more patient with yourself when you slip up, and spending time reflecting on what you desire for yourself, rather than what society wants for you.
Taking a baby step approach to personal growth is also a way to set yourself up for success, which is an expression of self-love itself. Knowingly biting off more than you can realistically chew can actually be self-sabotaging behavior. When we aren’t able to accomplish the looming goals we set for ourselves, we tend to beat ourselves up about it. In reality, we may be more likely to accomplish those goals if we approach them in a step-by-step fashion. In doing so, we pave the way for self-improvement without neglecting our current selves in the process.
What an Expert Needs You to Know about Self-Love
Finally, to get a professional perspective on self-love and self-improvement, I got some insights from a counselor. Here’s an excerpt from my interview with Jenais Y. Means, MA, LPCA, the lead counselor at Collaborative Means.
When asked whether self-love or self-improvement is most important, Jenais had this to say:
What’s important is making mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical space for both self-love and self-improvement. Both concepts are fluid; they will look, feel, and sound differently from day to day (and sometimes hour to hour). Be where you are.
How can women make sure efforts of self-improvement are rooted in self-love?
Being rooted in self-love means acknowledging our intentions for self-improvement. It’s okay to ask yourself, “Who gains or benefits the most from my self-love/self-improvement journey?” And it’s okay if that person is you!
Although self-improvement implies that who and where we are now is not who or where we want to be in the future, take time to acknowledge and appreciate the growth that brought you to your present. Finally, know that you are already enough!
What do you wish more people knew about self-love?
Loving yourself and taking steps to improve yourself both rely on self-awareness and vulnerability. Self-awareness requires us to pause and visualize ourselves as we are, visualize ourselves as we desire, and then it requires us to create a plan to achieve our desires. If you’re looking for a solid New Year’s resolution, consider making it a goal to acknowledge even the slightest amounts of personal growth, change, and development.