Don’t Let New Year’s Resolutions Become Obsessions

Happy New Year, everybody!  I hope you all had the New Year’s celebration you wanted, whether that was at home on the couch or out with friends. 

About this time every year, people go nuts over making changes in their lives via New Year’s Resolutions.  Some of the most common involve losing weight, eating healthy, or getting fit (all of which are doomed by Valentine’s Day chocolate, then Easter candy, and then suddenly it’s “bikini season” – sheesh).  Other common resolutions involve “getting organized” – a vague, if admirable, goal, and one that usually takes a lot of time and effort.  And everything is supposed to change on January 1. 

An Autistic Brain Can Turn Resolutions Into Obsessions

Autistic neurology tends toward hyperfocus.  When we get something into our heads, it tends to become our main track, sometimes to the point that we neglect other aspects of our lives.  That means we can take good ideas and turn them into unhealthy behaviors real fast. 

If we get too focused on the idea of losing weight, for example, we might end up cutting calories too far or exercising beyond our capabilities in an attempt to “beat” the calorie counting app.  We could spend a full week organizing the entire house from floor to ceiling, only to find that we can’t locate anything we need when we’re done because whatever logic we used in organizing, it’s not the same logic we use in our day to day lives. 

Alternatives to “Resolutions”

In light of my neurology, I’d like to offer some alternatives to the typical New Year’s Resolutions.

Hopes

How about a list of hopes for the coming year?

What do you hope to do, be, accomplish?  What are your hopes for your health, your relationships?  If I were to make this list for 2020, it might look like this:

  • I hope to maintain the friendships I’ve gained in the last couple of years.
  • I hope to forge closer ties with my family.
  • I hope to get a better handle on my time management (for example, get ahead on my blog posts!).
  • I hope to find a routine of self-care and medication to keep my chronic pain at a minimum.
  • I hope to balance my job, my blog work, my housekeeping, and my social life.

Those are just my examples, you’ll probably have other hopes for this year.

Goals

A list of things you want to do or achieve over the next year, instead of immediately, gives you more wiggle room and doesn’t carry the threat of imminent failure that can come with “resolutions”.  This is the form I usually use, and my list generally looks something like this:

  • Go to X number of live theatre performances (I love live theatre, and I try to make sure to see about 3 shows each year)
  • Go to X event (This might be a convention, a local music festival, or a special touring show.  I usually have 2-3 of these on my list)
  • Complete X project OR complete X number of projects (This might be one big thing I’m working on, like writing a book, or a goal for my crafting, like finishing 7 pairs of gloves or 3 blankets or something.  Again, I usually have multiples of this entry.)
  • Learn X new skill (For 2020, I’m learning three new languages)
  • Spend X time with family and friends (For me, this is about making sure I plan for visits with my out-of-town people, whether that’s me going to them or them coming to me.  Just as long as we get to see each other.)

You might have other goals for your year, like doing a set amount of charity work, going to a MeetUp or other social event a certain number of times, or something else.  You can add anything that’s important to you.

The great thing about using goals for the year instead of resolutions is that some of them may not happen, and that’s ok.  I might not make it to one of the touring shows I want to see in 2020, and that would make me sad, but it won’t mean that I failed at anything.  My book may still be stuck in editing a year from now (re-writes take me forever), but I’ll be further along than I am today.

Ok, Hopes and Goals Are Set – Now What?

No matter what kind of list you make – resolutions, hopes, goals, or whatever – it won’t do you any good if you don’t make a plan to follow through on them.  For each item on your list, think about the steps you need to take.  If you’re dealing with health issues, schedule appointments with your doctors and research treatment ideas.  To start on charity work, first look up groups that are taking volunteers.  To maintain relationships, reach out to your family and friends and see if you can schedule visits or make plans together (with plenty of lead time, of course).  If you’re looking to learn a new skill, look up classes or apps that teach what you want to learn.

For anyone working on things that require changing your lifestyle or habits, small changes over time are more sustainable than big changes all at once.  If you’re looking to lose weight or eat better, that’s great – but switching immediately from holiday goodies to nothing but vegetables will make you nuts!  Start with less sugar and more veggies.  Start organizing one room at a time – maybe even one side of one room at a time – and work from there. 

The hardest part of this for autistic people is not making it all black and white.  Our brains like to work in binary options, all or nothing.  Many autistics also have executive function problems that make it hard for us to think about the steps involved in making the changes we want or keeping our focus long enough to make them.  But we’ve all been through what happens when we jump in head first – we eventually hit the bottom and it all crashes down around us, resulting in meltdowns, burnout, and a new layer of shame and failure.  We deserve to be kinder to ourselves.

Don't Let New Year's Resolutions Become Obsessions

What are your goals for 2020?  What steps are you taking to make them happen?  Do you have anything really big you want to do or finish this year?  Anything that scares you, but you want to do it anyway?    

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