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How to Set New Year’s Resolutions Without Shame-Based Motivation

For a long time, I rejected the idea of New Year’s resolutions. Honestly, I kind of rejected the idea of goals in general. I didn’t understand how to set goals without shame to motivate myself to accomplish them, so I said good riddance.

This year is the first year I’m setting New Year’s resolutions again, and I’m determined, not just to meet my goals, but to do it without shame. 

What Does Shame-Based Motivation Look Like?

The shame starts with the goals we set. The kind of goals we set can often be inspired by shame-based motivation, AKA, motivation based on avoiding the feeling of shame. 

For instance, if we’re ashamed of how late we sleep in or how long we spend on our phone in the morning, we might set a goal to get up earlier. In general, this can be a great goal, but when it’s motivated by shame, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

That’s because shame is not actually a good motivator, if you define a “good” motivator as one that helps you identify a goal, steadily work toward that goal, and eventually achieve it.

Does this sound familiar?

“I really need to get up earlier and stop wasting so much time. All that time scrolling through my phone like a lazy bum, when other people are up taking care of kids or doing something with their lives, and here I am, just an ‘idiot’ in bed until noon. This year, I’m done being so lazy. I mean, it’s ridiculous.” 

Yeah, that’s shame talking. A lot of shame, actually. Maybe it’s easier to spot, written out here like this, but shame has a sneaky way of sounding a lot like logic when it’s in our own heads, especially for those of us with a shame-based personality. 

If you’ve gone through something like the scenario above and tried to change your habits out of shame, you know how it ends: two weeks later, exhausted from trying to hate yourself into the kind of person you want to be, you go back to scrolling through your phone to distract yourself from all the shame, and you’re somehow even worse off than when you started.

How to Set Goals Without Shame

Here’s the tricky part: how to set goals without all that shame creeping in. 

The truth is, you may not be able to silence the shame entirely. I know that might sound a little pessimistic, but I’ve found that, in my own experience at least, shame doesn’t just go away. It takes time (a loooong time) to unravel where the shame came from, how it’s affected you, and finally restructure how you think about yourself and the world.

Unfortunately, we can’t do all of that work right here in this article, but we can still find some tricks for working around shame to set some goals we can really stick to.

My number one strategy for getting around my shame is the Best Friend Rule. Basically, before I set a goal, I ask myself, “Would I be worried about my best friend if they set this goal for this reason?” If the answer is yes, then my goal is likely motivated by shame and I need to take a step back.

The Best Friend Rule is a great way to get around our own personal hangups and see ourselves a little more accurately. Shame likes to tell us that we are inherently different, inherently bad. That is not true, but I understand that sometimes, it feels true anyway. So I use the Best Friend Rule to see past those feelings of brokenness.

Another great way to set goals without shame is the Why Game. The Why Game is basically where you channel your inner 3-year-old and you incessantly ask “Why?” until you can’t take it anymore. Ask yourself why you’re setting these specific goals. Then question your answer, then that answer, then the next answer and so on.

The Why Game really helps me get to the root of why I’m ashamed about something, and understanding the “why” behind my shame makes it easier to set a goal that isn’t based on that shame.

Your Shame-Free Goals

Are you ready to set some goals without shame-based motivation?

Play the Why Game, invoke the Best Friend Rule, and spend some time journaling about what you want from this upcoming year. Let’s be honest, 2020 was a dumpster fire and we’re all relieved to leave it behind. And the effects of 2020 will likely reach into 2021, maybe making it hard for us to achieve the goals we’re reaching for.

That’s OK. You are surviving global trauma. It’s OK if you struggle to be the productivity goddess you want to be. It’s OK to strive for better in 2021, but it’s also OK to accept whatever happens.

Remember, regardless of how your goals shake out next year, you’re always good enough.

If you decide you do want to wake up early in the new year, regardless of shame, I have an awesome tool to help you make it happen. I designed the Anxiety-Proof Mornings eCourse to help you do both the inner work and the practical work of creating a morning routine that really works for you. Make sure you check it out!

A version of this article was previously published on the author’s blog, Healing Unscripted.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

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