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  • Writer's pictureLisa Gottlieb

An NVC Approach to New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year everyone! With the new year, how about a few new resolutions? Every year we make them, and mostly, we aren’t successful at keeping them. Here’s why, and here’s how to win at making and keeping resolutions.

If your resolutions are driven by “shoulds” for yourself, other people, or the culture at large, and if your goals are motivated by shame, or are too vague and too overreaching, your chances of success are slim. Focusing on what’s wrong with yourself, instead of what you want more of in your life, limits energy and motivation and isn’t much fun.

An NVC approach supports touching into authentic feelings and being with those feelings in ways that support celebration and mourning. Noticing what needs are calling for attention in relation to the feelings gives us more agency, choice and acceptance of what we value. Using these foundational NVC guidelines can be a breath of fresh air in a stuffy, constricted space when they support us in moving away from self criticism and towards what is important.

In practical terms, using helpful guidelines can support positive, life affirming change. Try SMART resolutions to get started.

SMART resolutions

Notice what you’d like to achieve and then break the goal down into small, doable steps. Back in the 1980s, businesses used the acronym SMART to make goals more successful. Resolutions can benefit from the same approach.


  • Specific: be clear about what you want and frame it as positive action. “I don’t want to be so lazy” is a vague, judgemental, generalized goal. Instead, focus on what brings you joy: “I’d like to be more active on a daily basis, doing things I enjoy because this feels good for my body and my mental health”. For example, “I will take a brisk, 15 minute walk five days a week” is a great place to start. Increase the personal challenge as you gain momentum.

  • Measurable: The more specific your goal, the easier it is to measure. At the end of the week, did you take those walks?

  • Achievable: Is your ambition realistic? Maybe you can begin with a more modest goal so that you don’t give up.

  • Relevant: Make sure your resolution is something that is important to you.

  • Time-bound: New habits take time to create. Work on small wins to keep yourself on track.

Sometimes my clients will say to me, “my harshness with myself motivates me to get things done!” or, “Unless I am critical of myself, I won’t get motivated.” Although this may be true, the brutality integrated in these thought patterns can come at a painful cost over the long term. If you have that critical inner voice that drives and compels you, perhaps take a few moments and explore when you first began to integrate that voice into your physical, emotional and mental awareness. Was it a highly critical caregiver? Was it simply part of the family culture in which you were raised, or maybe the patriarchal approach of measuring your self worth by standards of perfection and task completion to give you an experience of success? What if instead you offer yourself loving kindness and empathy, and then begin to find ways to fulfill your goals in ways that support self acceptance and reasonable efforts that don’t leave you exhausted, burnt out and overwhelmed.

When we approach things we want to do differently in a compassionate, empathic way, the self-acceptance and love supports our growth and potential for more vitality, wellness and gratification.

Give this a try, and let me know how things change for you in the new year.

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