January is understood as the time for self-improvement, and year after year many of us fall into the same trap. We proclaim that this is the year when we become better, healthier versions of ourselves for good before promptly letting our goals slip away.
Why are resolutions so notoriously easy to break? Is it because the goals we set are unrealistic and lofty? Or because being healthy is harder than being unhealthy? Maybe both. However, I believe that the true barrier to self-improvement is in the way we see ourselves and our health.
I was sitting in the Old Fourth Ward skate park on January 1 when I overheard a conversation between two men who were running on the BeltLine in which one said to the other, “I see you’re punishing yourself today.” The conversation went on to detail the copious New Year’s Eve drinking they had done, and the “punishment” in question was the run they were now on.
This sentiment is the heart of the problem with resolutions and health culture in general. Food and movement feel good. It feels good to be energized after eating a filling meal. It feels good to eat something with nutritional value that doesn’t upset your stomach or make you crash later in the day. It feels good to stretch, run, lift heavy things, play sports, bike, or do physical activity that is within one’s ability. Typically, however, new year’s resolutions and diet culture don’t focus on feeling good in one’s body. They focus instead on losing weight, punishing “bad” behavior like eating junk food or lying in bed all day (both of which also feel good), or becoming a “better” person, the object of others’ admiration and envy.
Da’Shaun L. Harrison echoes this in their book “Belly of the Beast” (about which you can learn more on page 12): “Of people who diet, 95 to 97 percent ‘fail.’ Not because they aren’t committed, not because they’re following them incorrectly, but because dieting demands that you do whatever it takes to shed pounds — even if what it takes requires you to harm yourself — instead of encouraging one to do what makes them feel good.”
Life is primarily a somatic experience; the foundation of our consciousness is feeling. We experience the world through our senses before interpreting it with our minds. The way we feel physically — sick, energized, comfortable, tired, etc. — impacts our mood, thinking patterns, ego, and sense of self. Our healthiest self, therefore, is the one that feels good. This doesn’t necessarily mean we devolve into hedonism; aligning your behavior with your morals, being a good and loyal friend, giving back to your community, or getting good sleep can feel just as good as having sex, partying late into the night, doing drugs, staying in bed all day, or eating fast food does.
If you are one for resolutions, this year I implore you to step away from the ego — the projected social self who isn’t skinny, intelligent, healthy, or successful enough, whose identity is in relation to others — and toward the inward somatic self, the primary filter through which being alive is experienced. Instead of seeking to improve yourself as defined by society, try to improve your quality of life as defined by you.
The best way to improve our personal experience of being alive is to first be mindful of how our habits make us really feel. Maybe you want to cut down on drinking, not because it’s bad to drink, but because your hangovers feel worse than being drunk feels good. Maybe you want to be more active, not because it’s better to be thinner, but because it makes you feel good, capable, and strong. This requires us to be present in our bodies, which can be difficult, but when our goals are oriented toward feeling as opposed to being, it’s easier to stick with them because feeling good, well, feels good!
This year, my resolution is to stop shaming myself for not being enough and to instead reconnect with what it feels like to be alive. I know my personal experience of life feels worse when I have low energy — I engage more with passive activities like social media that can negatively impact my mental health, I am less socially confident, and I am more prone to feelings of depression. So, I’m going to try to eat fewer processed foods (but not stopping entirely!) and regulate my sleep schedule so I have more energy throughout the day to invest in activities that make me feel good, like yoga, reading, writing, and engaging with my community.
For me, 2022 will be the year I design my life around my desires, needs, abilities, and feelings, because nobody gets to experience my life but me. If you haven’t yet, I hope you do the same. Happy New Year!