As this new year begins, I’m tired of trying to grow as a person. Instead, I just want to be myself and feel some peace.
This isn’t a statement of a desire for a life of complacency, though. Rather, it’s a rejection of the exhausting quest for perfection that ruled my new year’s resolutions for years. I refuse to buy into tiring personal growth narratives that tell me I won’t be good enough unless I change, well, everything.
In the past few years, I’ve realized that sustainable growth is less about striving toward (an impossible) perfection, and more about growing into the person I was created to be. Looking at it this way, it now feels like coming home to who I am at my best, rather than trying to become someone whom I’ve never met. As I seek to be a force for good in the world, that effort stems from my values, not my new year’s resolutions.
If your idea of improving yourself in the new year means to chase perfection, it might be time for a new approach. Here is a process you can use to set authentic goals for the year ahead that will help you grow into more of your best self — the person you were created to be.
Identify your values
First, start by identifying your values for the upcoming year. Disregard what people in your spheres of influence think you should care about this year. Reflect, instead, on what you want to value this year. What will bring you closer to the person you are when you feel most yourself and authentic and alive? What aspects of your life or community could you invest in to become more of who you really are? You might land on more traditional values such as spirituality, or you might surprise yourself with an interest in something more unconventional, like prioritizing fun. These values will be your compass that will guide the resolutions you make.
Personal growth is often portrayed as a DIY personal project, but I believe it only works in collaboration with community. The people around you will be eventually supporting you in your commitments this year. Bring them into your process from the beginning. Use your community to help you define your values. Have a discussion with trusted friends, your partner, a priest, your spiritual director, a coach or mentor — anyone who knows you and supports you. What do they notice about you when you’re at your best? When do they see you most alive? Chat with them about how you’re looking to land on some values to guide your priorities in the year ahead.
Define actions and habits
Once you’ve found your values, from there you can define the actions (i.e., resolutions) that will help you to live into those values. This is the opposite order of how we’re taught to create our resolutions. Typically, we form our resolutions from the achievements of other people we admire (30-day yoga challenge, anyone?). We often fail to consider whether these buzz-worthy goals fit with what we value, excel at, and are naturally suited for. When we take on goals that are not the right fit for us, we can end up frustrated when we don’t achieve them — and even if we do achieve them, we won’t feel any better because they won’t be an expression of who we are, really.
Once again, bringing in your friends or trusted support systems can help you here. Ask them for ideas of actions you could do to embody the values that you want to enjoy this year. Consult with your network to ensure that your resolutions fit with who you are, rather than who you think you should be.
Rely on supportive communities
The last step here is to place yourself within communities, faith traditions, or other nourishing groups of people who will foster your growth and sustain you when things get challenging. We can be at our best when things are easy, but what do we lean on when it all goes downhill and things are hard? Having the support of a community can help with that. The right communities keep us going when we feel tested — they offer inspiration and nourishment to be our best selves.
There’s another benefit to a community: inviting other perspectives into your life widens your horizons. It’s far too easy to shape our lives around our own vision of the world, but no one is all-knowing and perfect. We are all missing pieces of the puzzle. A community puts us in relationship with people who see the world differently.
Looking at the values and habits that you’re prioritizing, what communities can deepen your process? Who is already living the way that you hope to? Who makes you feel closest to the person you were made to be? How can you spend time among those people?
You might find that community by creating an accountability circle, attending Mass, joining a young adult faith community, taking on a volunteer commitment, joining Facebook or other online support groups, or even bringing in a trusted friend, partner, or loved one to help you make the changes you seek.
This year, use these steps to try a new approach to making resolutions. You may never get to post online about your 100-day streak of daily meditation, or crank out 100 push-ups in a Reel. But if you approach this new start with actions, goals, and habits that authentically reflect your deepest identity, you’ll connect to something bigger and take a big step to become the person you were created to be.