Better You

I see this stupid slogan around this time every year. In some cases, it simply refers to adopting a healthier lifestyle. I’m cool with that, and I know the discipline and hard work that is a part of this process. In other cases, people within my own profession will make this statement. They should be ashamed and publicly flogged for assisting in the ongoing marginalization of counseling and psychology as an actual science.

First, a “new you” suggests that the current you sucks and is in need of change. This is a blanket assumption; one that should never be made by people in my line of work. It’s entirely possible that the current you is just fine, not something that is worth the effort to change, and can potentially cause more harm than good should the change be undertaken simply because the change leads you further away from who you really are.

Second, and related to the first, is the idea that before you can change you, you might want to know who you are. When I ask the question. “Who are you?”, I always get responses of what a person does (father, mother, sister, brother, parent, occupation, religious affiliation, etc.). There are internal reasons people have for wanting to be the things that they do, we (counselors and psychologists) just tend to avoid that line of reasoning with people. It’s hard, messy, confusing, and frustrating. I understand that you are different things. I don’t understand your reasons (attitudes, beliefs, and values) that act as the engine that drives the mechanism (you). I can understand these things when I am told, so I have a responsibility to challenge your reasons in an effort to allow both of us to better understand the real (authentic) you.

An example of this might be you wanting to be a better parent or employee. How does this relate to your core values, beliefs, and/or attitudes? How do you define “better”? In other words, how would you know that you are changing in a positive way, and by whose stick would you measure this? What has led you to believe that you want to change these things? You, or forces outside of yourself to which you are giving more power and control than you are willing to give to you?

Third, the language you use about becoming a “new you” is a setup for failure, self-deprecation, and more frustration. People (you) tend to use language that includes words or phrases such as, “I need to…”, “I have to…”, “I should…”, “I never…”, “I always…”, etc. This kind of self-talk puts you into a pass/fail scenario, and you’ll usually fail (see the first sentence in this paragraph). A more accurate and healthy internal narrative uses the words “want” and “don’t want”. This allows you to have a bad day without being a failure–you simply wanted (to do) something more than you wanted to change on that particular day. No big deal. Everyone experiences this and tomorrow is just another opportunity to re-prioritize what you want.

Last, a “new you” may take way fucking longer than a year. Think about how old you are and know that that’s how much time you have had to be the you that we all see. One hopes that it won’t take that same amount of time to change, although it might and that’s fine. You’re trying, and you will continue to try until you’ve arrived or decided that the change you seek isn’t worth the effort or isn’t really about you; its origin lies somewhere out there and you accidentally bought the bullshit until you decide to stop paying for it.

New year? Yeah, we’ll get those until we die. Big deal. New you? Maybe, and you may not get it before you die. As long as you’re trying, and know the reasons you have for making the time and the effort, the word “new” can be chucked and replaced with “better than…”. I think that might mean a great deal more than “new”.

Keep the fire stoked when you can and welcome to 2017 (assuming you’re not Jewish, in which case welcome to 5778 in Tishri).

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