By Cindy Dampier Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As Cindy Dampier reports, "Those who study the self-help world, and even some of those who are a part of it, say that the new year push for reinvention is, quite simply, an artificial construct created by yet another industry that, surprise, wants to sell you something."
It's 2020; a new year, a new decade, and the old me is still hanging around. She's not as fit as she should be. Her closet is still kind of a mess and so is her desk.
She hasn't tried Whole 30. She refuses to KonMari anything. Mention that Peloton mom, she'll roll her eyes.
Frankly, she's pretty unrepentant, in spite of the New Year's deluge of "new year, new you!" chirpiness that has overtaken every sphere of our collective experience in these first few days.
From your browser ads to your Twitter feed to the bus bench, to social media posts from friends, the push to recreate yourself in a skinnier, wealthier, healthier, more successful, more loveable mold, starting NOW, is inescapable. By the second day of the new year, a friend had already told me about her pals who are doing Whole 30 and Dry January, simultaneously. The pressure is real.
But I'm not ready to trade the old me in like last year's model or set her out on the curb with the dried-up Christmas trees.
She's resolution-resistant. And so am I.
And that's not a bad thing.
Those who study the self-help world, and even some of those who are a part of it, say that the new year push for reinvention is, quite simply, an artificial construct created by yet another industry that, surprise, wants to sell you something.
"It's like Valentine's Day," says Jolenta Greenberg of the By The Book podcast, on which she and co-host Kristen Meinzer have road-tested more than 50 self-help books. Except instead of candy and greeting cards, what the resolutions crowd is selling you are your own inadequacies, and a handy escape from them.
"First, the message is 'The way you take care of yourself is flawed,' " says Greenberg. "And then we want to sell you something to make it better. And when that doesn't work, you feel like a failure, so try this next thing to fix it.
It's built on constant inadequacy. And it's interesting how eager we all are to eat it up."
Meinzer finds the parade of resolutioned-up influencers especially jarring.
"A lot of what's being shown to us in the betterment space, including a lot of people posting on social media about their resolutions, is people who were basically born on 3rd base." Failure to be honest about privilege and circumstances on social media helps sustain a climate of inadequacy for others.
Christine Carter, a sociologist and senior fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, studies happiness and has written several self-help books, yet she, too, is wary of the hard sell around resolutions: "All the bloggers, all the things, it creates this horrible moment of should, should, should. Year after year, we set ourselves up for failure."
The unpleasant emotions associated with all that dumping on ourselves are a recipe for disaster. Statistics on new year's resolutions show that 80% of them fail by February. And the experts say that's because we take on goals that we find inherently unpleasant. "We won't finish things we don't like doing," says Greenberg. "That's a fact."
Carter agrees: "We make resolutions that fill us with dread and a sense of deprivation," she says. Launching a Whole 30 eating plan on New Year's Day is a good example, she says. "I'm a health food nut, I'm not against these things. But when people come to me with that as a goal I ask, 'Why are you doing that? How do you want to feel in your life? And will Whole 30 get you there?' "
Maybe, instead of a drastic reset of ourselves, we need to drastically reset our goals. "My recommendation," says Carter, "is not to go for big, spectacular resolutions, because they are likely going to be big, spectacular failures. Not because you're going to be bad at them. Because you're human."
Accepting your own flawed humanity, your actually-pretty-good old self, is the key to beginning any kind of growth, she adds. "Acceptance is foundational. When we look at where we really are, we can grow from a stronger foundation." And growth should be viewed along a lifelong timeline, "like a tree grows. Slowly. That's the kind of growth I'm talking about."
In that context, and with the willpower to ignore the clamor of the resolution industrial complex, the beginning of a new year doesn't have to be such a thorny moment. "It's a great moment for introspection," Carter says, "and for looking at what you might want to let go." Letting something go, in turn, might free you up to be nicer to yourself and others.
"If you really need to make a promise to yourself," says Greenberg, "make it a nice one, make it a fun one, make it something that you really love and want more of in your life."
Greenberg and Meinzer have had an eye-opening ride through the wide world of self-help, including plenty of not-worthy goals. (Hello, diet books.) This spring, they're releasing their own book, "How to Be Fine," distilling their insights about the world of self-help. A lot of it, they say, has to do with taking a simple, more realistic approach to change.
"The old you is beautiful, loveable and worthy of all sorts of great things," says Meinzer, "if you want to be a little happier, I would say start by taking good care of yourself." That can also include, she notes, spending time in therapy or opting into medication for anxiety or depression if needed, an important element that many self-help books gloss over or ignore entirely.
Carter urges clients to figure out what makes them happy, by consulting with (who else?) their old selves. "What has made you happy in the past, and what worked to get you there?" she says. "Just do more of what worked for you in the past."
And if you're still looking for that little something new, a fresh idea about how to feel better this year, try this one: Be on the lookout for gratitude.
"It's one of the keystone habits we talk about," says Carter. "And research shows that people who practice gratitude are not only happier, they actually sleep better and exercise more. If you want to give up sugar, practicing gratitude will help with that, because it helps reduce stress, and we often soothe ourselves, comfort ourselves in the midst of stress by eating things like sugar."
You can be grateful by writing your gratitude down in a journal, sure. But if that's not your style, do what works for you. Maybe just notice what you're grateful for, quietly, to yourself. Or remember to thank someone you love, or someone who's a stranger. Your gratitude does not have to be Instagram-worthy.
"It can get us out of our rut," says Meinzer. "Not that we won't recognize when something isn't working in life, but we can also find those things we can be grateful for."
Things may feel pretty stressful in these first days of 2020, and there's bound to be more to come. But a little gratitude can't hurt. "It makes everything more palatable and easier to deal with," says Greenberg. "Being grateful is just more fun than being miserable."