My New Year’s Resolution? Be Myself.

Moving past aesthetic goals during resolution season is possible, if you explore what true happiness means to you.

EL manager editor Courtney Lewis Opdahl is tubing in the snow.

My teenage brain was exposed to a steady stream of makeover-style movies in the ’80s and ’90s, so much so that I have a recurring dream: I wake up totally different.

I look different. I speak and act differently — more confident, more proper. I have a closet of chic Vogue-esque clothing — think red-carpet-ready looks for that future film festival where I pose alongside my BFFs, Chrissy Teigen and John Legend — that doesn’t fit my actual lifestyle as an active mom of two little kids.

Every January, I feel like I need to reinvent myself. Resolution season can either be energizing or demoralizing, and for me, it is usually draining. I come out of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations feeling shame for how I ate and imbibed, and fully committed to a new diet or program.

At least for a few weeks, that is. Usually by Valentine’s Day, I have some chocolates and champagne and decide my diet isn’t worth it. And, it’s true: Most diets and the language around diet culture cause me more harm than good. The more specific and restrictive the program, the more unsustainable the lifestyle — and the more I feel like a failure for noncompliance and fall into disordered eating patterns. I’ve spent years recalibrating my relationship with food.

Now would be the moment when my elders speak to me, saying, “My goodness, child, why are you in the health and fitness industry when you have this history?” It’s an important point: I have to be more conscious of how unhelpful and harmful language in the wellness world affects me. But I’m a firm believer in the third way, and I’m interested in finding positive examples and solutions. And I’ve personally experienced the benefits of fitness, in both inner and outer strength, and that’s helped me rethink my approach to resolution season.

Instead of setting goals that are about how I look, I think about how certain behaviors might improve how I feel:

  • Go to bed 15 minutes earlier every day for a week. Reassess and adjust as needed the following week.
  • Journal daily, starting with just five minutes. Build on the habit.
  • Cut back on screen time and set boundaries around my media consumption.
  • Spend time in nature as much as possible.
  • Connect with friends and family who make me laugh.
  • Drink more water.
  • Make awesome sauces and dressings to top nourishing meals.
  • Eat veggies and have fun with new recipes that help me feel well. Add in more colorful foods; worry less about protocols and focus on satisfaction.
  • Meditate often and repeat the mantra, “I’m still me, and I’m pretty awesome.”

These are just a few examples of goals I’ve set that also offer self-care and improve my well-being. It is a better approach for me to flip the script to what I can gain instead of what I need to lose. While I did make weight loss the focus in past efforts, I ultimately found more power in prioritizing strength training and movement, for example, which provided me with more confidence, improved sleep, less stress, and better mental clarity.

In rethinking my resolutions to align with my values and not what others were doing, I’ve come to see how I’ve really been seeking my best quality of life. My “transformation” usually comes back to mindset, which sets me up for true success, or as Arthur C. Brooks writes in his column for The Atlantic: “The reason [people] so often fail is because the resolutions they choose don’t match their true goal of greater happiness.”

We each have our own unique vision of happiness, and when we start exploring what that means, it’s possible to reset our behaviors with clearer intentions. Instead of striving for the arbitrary “goal weight” I thought I needed to reach for my body, I aimed for a new PR to set on the deadlift. When I saw how staying up late was zapping my energy, I realized how beneficial more sleep would be.

And that part of my dream with fancy outfits for the red carpet? Perhaps my subconscious was really seeking more creativity and expression. Though I doubt there was any subtext with Chrissy and John as my besties. Sometimes dreams are just that.

is Experience Life’s managing editor.

Photo credit: Jessie Kordosky

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