Happy New Year! You know what that means: it’s that time of year when everyone is setting new goals and forming new routines. This time of year can be so inspiring for so many because it’s a fresh start, a new beginning, and a chance to modify what we’re doing. But if we’re being honest, nothing’s particularly unique about the new year. It’s more of a symbolic starting over than a deadline for everyone to change their habits. We could easily set a new goal on February 20th or start a new workout routine on June 8th, and it would be just as likely to succeed as if we did it on January 1st. Somehow, New Year’s has become a day when everyone is feeling the pressure to start fresh, and if you’re one of the few that doesn’t set any resolutions for the next 365 days, you might feel left out and a little strange.
I think setting goals and creating routines for yourself is fantastic! My goals and routines are what help me stay on track and keep me grounded. However, sometimes I think the narrative around New Year’s resolutions can do more harm than good.
Pressure to Perform
As fitness professionals, it’s difficult not to buy into this narrative, and we’re often the people on the front lines of its spread. This year, I’ve definitely been feeling the pressure. I’ve been getting emails from a lot of my favorite health and wellness professionals promoting their new 10-day or 2-week or 1-month program for January that promises to change my life, help me transform my body, “burn off the holiday cookies”, and make all my dreams come true. And honestly, I can totally see the appeal. As someone who runs my own brand and is in charge of my own class schedule, it’s tempting to do some special, exciting challenge, program, or promotion for the New Year. If everyone’s going to be so excited about changing their routines and starting fresh anyway, shouldn’t I make some money off of it?
Here’s the reason I resist: a lot of the rhetoric around New Year’s perpetuates the culture of doing, dieting, spending, and never really being good enough. Let me say this again so that I make myself clear: there is NOTHING wrong with New Year’s resolutions, and if you’ve set one, good for you! I really hope this year is everything you want it to be. All I’m saying is that we should be setting goals because we want to, not because we feel like we have to change in order to be worthy. And if you’re also a professional in the health and wellness space, it’s our responsibility to choose our words and our timing carefully. We should never pressure our clients or students to change.
So What’s the Problem?
One of the components of problematic speech during the new year is around diet culture. It’s so difficult to avoid! I very carefully curate the people I follow and interact with, and even I find it nearly impossible to dodge all of the “you need to fix yourself” marketing. It’s almost hard to believe that diet culture is still going so strong even in the midst of all of the body positive content out there these days, but trust me, it’s alive and well. It’s almost more insidious now because it’s packaged in ways that sound positive and innocent at first. This “wellness”-focused language can cause just as much damage. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve gotten over the past two weeks about programs that will “help you get back on track”, “reset”, and “get healthy”. All of this is code for “lose weight.” And of course, there are many ads that aren’t quite as subtle.
This issue hits close to home for me because, as a teenager coming of age as social media was starting to gain momentum, I got a lot of my information about how I was supposed to feel about myself and my body from what I saw online. I followed a lot of fitness accounts that talked all about how to “shred” or “transform your physique.” These accounts touted photos of people whose genetics were very different from mine as the gold standard for wellness. It made me feel like, if I didn’t have shredded abs or toned arms, I couldn’t be healthy or strong. I even felt bad about myself because of things that are impossible to change, like my height! It made me believe that health was synonymous with looking tall and slim, not with how you feel or how you treat yourself. This harmful messaging led to disordered eating and exercise patterns, and the negative feelings I formed about myself took years to unlearn. I know I’m not alone in that. If you’re having issues coping with the diet/weight loss focused narrative taking place online right now, try logging off if you can and writing down 5 things you adore about yourself that have nothing to do with your appearance. For some more ideas on how to ditch diet culture this New Year’s, check out this article from Center for Change.
The thing about diet culture is that it’s inherently linked to capitalism. Before you scroll past this paragraph, I’m not about to go on a rant about capitalism. I just think it’s important to acknowledge that companies and individuals profit from making people feel like there’s something they need to change, which causes them to purchase a good or service, which in turn feeds the business that made them feel that they were inadequate in the first place. The real kicker is that it’s in a company’s best interest for their product to work, but not too well, because they need you to keep needing them in order to earn more money. As a result, the entire cycle restarts an infinite number of times. Melissa A. Fabello explains this concept in this video way better than I can. It’s not just the health and wellness industry that profits from our insecurity. The fashion, cosmetic surgery, and beauty industries (among many others), can also benefit from their consumers feeling like they need to change. Capitalism is also rooted in white supremacy and patriarchy. I won’t dive into that relationship in this post because we’d be here all day, but if you want to know more, here are 2 articles to get you started: nfg.org, cadtm.org.
The main idea is that advertising around New Year’s is targeted in a way that, for the most part, intends to make its audience feel bad about themselves so that they’ll spend money trying to “self-improve.” We need to be aware and actively fight against the lies that we are unworthy in our own hearts and lives.
What Can I Do Instead?
Please hear me when I say: you are enough. You are worthy. There is nothing about you that needs to change. And if something about you does change in any way, you will still be exactly as worthy as you are in this moment. You do not get your value from what you do, how you look, or what you’ve achieved.
If you’re like me and you love the idea of turning over a new leaf, but you don’t feel the need to set a resolution, you can try setting an intention. I’ve been doing this for the past few years and absolutely loving it. It’s a way to direct your actions throughout the year and remind yourself of who you are without feeling the pressure to perform (or feeling guilt when you don’t stick with your resolution quite as well as you hoped). First, let’s talk about the yogic roots of setting intentions.
Sankalpa: Sankalpa is a Sanskrit term that means a solemn vow or intention (Yogapedia). It’s very similar to the way we use the word “intention” in English, but its meaning goes even deeper into the spiritual realm. It’s different from a goal because it’s not necessarily about doing anything. It’s about a way of being.
Mantra: Many of us have heard the word “mantra” used casually, even in contexts that have nothing to do with yoga or spirituality. A mantra is a word or phrase that’s repeated, especially during spiritual rituals and practices, to direct our thoughts and actions. It serves a similar purpose to a sankalpa, and they can be used in conjunction with each other.
For example, you would set your intention, or sankalpa, and use your mantra to focus your mind on your sankalpa. If your sankalpa was “acceptance”, then your mantra could be something like “I am enough exactly as I am.” In this way, the mantra is a vehicle to your sankalpa.
This is an alternative to setting resolutions that doesn’t use any money and doesn’t require you to change anything about yourself. If you want to join me in setting an intention for your next chapter, feel free to let me know what it is in the comments below! Remember, setting intentions, goals, and resolutions can be so helpful, as long as it’s YOUR choice and it’s in a way that’s loving and kind to yourself. I hope this next year brings you lots of love, learning, and growth. Happy New Year, yogis!