Remembering who we are and living life from this place is a worthy pursuit at this time of year, or any
BY JAMES GUAY, LMFT
It’s that time of year again where we’re encouraged to reflect on the past year while setting goals for the next. As LGBTQ people, more fully embracing ourselves in a world that doesn’t always value our authenticity is a worthy goal. One of the many gifts of aging is that we get a chance to rinse and repeat this effort over the years until we build a better friendship with ourselves. Who are we REALLY? How do we live our daily lives from a greater place of authenticity? And, how do we live our best lives?
Typical goals for a New Year include efforts to diet, exercise, save/earn more money, and travel, but will these truly satisfy us or make us fulfilled? Do they speak to our vision of greater self-acceptance and living at our best or are we bypassing that altogether for increasing our perceived value?
These efforts are frequently about wanting to make up for some underlying felt sense of deficiency, like being a sexual and/or gender minority. Even if we vehemently oppose the idea that we’re less than, sometimes we’re operating at the mercy of our unconscious in this way. Judging ourselves and others based on what society deems as a better age, race, body and ability ends up harming us all. When we play the game of this social hierarchy then we devalue too many players in it, including ourselves.
If we’re not living our lives understanding and honoring our inherent worth and value, just for being, none of the other stuff is that rewarding. We are not broken. We don’t need to be fixed or altered. Normal is not the goal. Pursuing our goals, and even excellence, is more richly nourishing when we aren’t doing it from the false notion of our own deficiencies.
In the process of reclaiming ourselves, we can still go off course and hurt ourselves and others. When we forget our own inherent worth, we’re misaligned with the best of who we are and act accordingly. In these moments, it’s a compassionate act to be vulnerable, take responsibility for the ways that we’ve injure ourselves and others and recommit to improving along the way. Self-compassion isn’t passive and it isn’t permission to excuse our behaviors. Greater self-compassion and kindness is the medicine for what ails us so that we can learn to live more fully.
When we unearth our most genuine selves, then we can better pursue goals by setting ourselves up for success. Research at the University of Scranton shows 75% of people who make New Year’s Resolutions maintain them past the first week and by six months it’s 46%. However those who make resolutions are ten times more likely to reach their goals than others who don’t.
To achieve better results with our goals, at any time of the year, it’s also useful to keep them tangible and within reach. An acronym that’s helpful, attributed to Peter Drucker, is SMART, which stands for keeping our goals: (s)pecific, (m)easurable, (a)ttainable, (r)elevant and (t)ime-bound.
Specific: Be clear and unambiguous in setting our goals. Start by asking ourselves what, who, why, where, and when about them.
Measurable: Set measurable outcomes. This ensures we know whether we’re making progress and when our goal is attained or needs to be readjusted.
Attainable: Ask ourselves if our goal is realistic and achievable for us to accomplish within the timeframe we’ve chosen.
Relevant: Make sure that our goals are in alignment with our core values and nourishing our best selves.
Time-bound: Having a specific time-frame for our goal puts things in focus while keeping ourselves accountable, as we would a best friend. Is this a one time goal or something we want to sustain and maintain for a longer period of time?
Pre-contemplation (Not Ready): This is the stage where we may not realize change is necessary and underestimate the pros for changing while overestimating the cons.
Contemplation (Getting Ready): We’re in this place when we want to change a behavior within the next 6 months but feel ambivalent about doing so and have some self-doubt. This is where we see the pros versus cons of changing as being pretty equal.
Preparation (Ready): When we’re actually ready to make the change in the next 30 days this is where we start to take steps toward doing so, including telling people we want to.
Action: This stage of change is where we need plenty of encouragement and reinforcement to create new healthy behaviors. This generally lasts up until 6 months or so.
Maintenance: With consistency our new healthier behaviors are now habituated and the work here is about relapse-prevention. This is also where we are using these healthier behaviors to self-soothe instead of using old unhealthy ways of coping.
When we frame our goals in a positive way and with compassion—instead of looking at it as restricting something — we can step into adding things to our lives that help us better thrive. There’s no need to wait until we’re “motivated” because that may never come and frequently we feel energized when we’re actually in the midst of doing something good for ourselves, not beforehand.
Coming back home to ourselves, and the subsequent behavioral changes that come as a result of this, doesn’t mean creating a New You, but rather Owning Our True Selves—that have been there all along the way. We may have forgotten who we are but it’s always been with us, even in the worst of times. Remembering who we are and living life from this place is a worthy pursuit at this time of year, or any.
I wish for us all a 2020 that is more deeply connected to our most authentic selves and our purpose in life.
James Guay, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (#39252), has provided individual and couples counseling in private practice since 1999. A former elite Gymnast and life-long lover of nature, he focuses his social justice activism for the LGBTQ population. Digital content available at: www.livingmorefully.com.