New Year’s Resolutions — does the phrase make you shudder? Research shows 80% of people fail to reach their new year’s resolutions by February. Yet every year, we are bombarded by tips and tricks to better ourselves in the coming year.
We think nature is our wisest guide to showing us how to prepare for the new year — after all, it’s been doing it simply and effectively for thousands of years. Here are three simple approaches to setting your new year’s resolutions and encouraging growth: make it redundant, take it month by month, and let it go.
1. Make it redundant
Ruth DeFries, Professor of Ecology and Sustainable Development at Columbia University, wrote a book right before the onslaught of the pandemic titled “What Would Nature Do: a Guide for Our Uncertain Times.” In it, she talks about nature’s redundant networks — like the complex looping in a dragonfly’s wing or the myriad interconnected veins in leaves. She explains how these labyrinthian networks allow for the system to continue working when inevitable tears or bites decimate an area of the wing or leaf.
Ruth encourages us to imitate nature’s complex interconnectedness. If COVID taught us anything, it taught us that humans working to become more interconnected with each other and with our living systems is crucial so we do not fall apart when a collective tragedy hits us.
As you set your intentions and goals for the new year, consider how you can mimic nature’s networks of redundancy. Brainstorm 3-4 possible ways of reaching a goal rather than just one. Plan for challenge: when you focus on your future successes, also remember the inevitable times of hardship and build in self-care habits so challenges do not overwhelm you. Explore how you best experience support by surrounding yourself with diverse communities of people and observe how certain personalities help you or sap you.
Let’s be the dragonfly’s wing.
2. Take it month by month
We often make our new year resolutions too vague. We set a resolution for the entire year and lose steam 2 months in. We don’t break down a resolution into actions, so it doesn’t get accomplished.
This year, be like nature and take it month by month. Especially in the first few months of the year, it looks like nothing is happening outdoors — it appears to be just a static scape. We can feel the same way looking at our lives in the first few daunting months of the year — like everything is yet to be accomplished and nothing is happening.
But the reality is that preparations for the next season are happening every day, each month. You’d be surprised how early on in the year seedlings can be planted and the groundwork can be laid for spring flourishing. The same is true for our day-in-day-out lives. It may look like we’re not accomplishing anything, but if we take it month by month and evaluate what we’re learning, we can take action and see the small progress.
A fun way to remember to take it month by month is keeping an almanac alongside your personal calendar. This connects you with the world’s natural processes and reminds you of the work that both you and nature are doing each day.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a print edition for 2023 — this classic almanac offers insights ranging from best times for gardening to moon phases. And there are amazing digital resources also available for this coming year.
This children’s 2023 almanac by Anna Wilson presents nature’s monthly lessons and facts in a fun, interactive way and is a great option for helping young people get connected with their own monthly goals and progressions.
Let’s remember that we are nature that’s flourishing every day.
3. Let it go
In all the talk about new year’s resolutions, it’s really important that we let something go as we are creating new possibilities.
Ecdysis is the process reptiles and insects both go through of shedding their skin or shell in order to grow. Right after the shedding, the body is soft and the creature is extremely vulnerable until the new protective covering grows.
We feel vulnerable when we let go of something. Holding onto a perception of ourselves, holding onto the past or onto control makes us feel safe and hardy. But the reality is that growth happens when we allow ourselves to let go.
This new year’s, identify one thing that you are going to let go. It can be as specific as letting go of worrying about a bill or a class each month — or as encompassing as letting go of a past vision of yourself. Whatever this thing is, write it down on a piece of paper and burn it. This is a tangible way to help your mind and body release this anxiety and sense of control.
Also remember that immense growth happens when everything seems the bleakest. Certain tree species hold seeds in their cones that are only released when the heat of a wildfire melts the resin. The devastation creates a burgeoning soil bed for this seed as it falls to the burnt forest floor and creates new forest growth.
Remember you are the wildfire’s seed this year.
Happy New Year’s Resolutions! We believe in you!