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The New Year Needs More Butcher Paper

I have never understood why Earth completing a trip around the sun is a holiday. Even when I was young and my body allowed me to drink and dance and party all night without dire consequences, I was lost on the New Year's Eve shebang.

Maybe it is because I'm an introvert. Maybe because I was always still in the holiday hangover from the back to back to back Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas triple threat. I don't know but I've never been one to give a huzzah to the new year.

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But, everyone else seems to care. This is the time of year when motivation is highest to try new things, pursue dreams, and commit to new levels of self-improvement. Gym regulars brace themselves for the onslaught of January resolutioners. Hobby & craft stores sell a ton of yarn to folks who'll inevitably abandon knitting or crocheting a weather blanket by February. I imagine refuse collection goes up a smidge as folks purge and reorganize and rearrange, swearing they are going to get their clutter under control.

It's also when all this talk of resolutions really kicks up. Beyond just not really getting the whole New Year as a reason for celebration, I've never really liked resolutions. I've tried them before. Hard resolutions: I'm going to lose fifty pounds this year. Soft resolutions: I'm going to read more. Some years I did okay with them. Some years I forgot I'd resolved anything at all.

What I do know is that resolutions did little for me personally. Luckily, failing to stick to a resolution never made me feel all that bad. Again, most of the time, I just forgot about the resolution until December when the New Year, New Me rhetoric started back up again. Oh yeah, I was gonna read more. Did I do that? I mean...I read some stuff. Was it more than the year before? I dunno. And oh, fifty pounds? I'm sure I lost that. Or at least I lost a pound, gained it back, and lost the same pound again at least fifty times. Probably more. That's a win, right?

But I know there are people really out there beating themselves up over their resolutions. Either making ones that they are for sure going to stick to or kicking their own metaphorical asses over last year's abject failure to go to the gym every day. It seems like a distressing cycle of deciding what bits of yourself you hate, committing to changing that bit, and then hating yourself for not changing the bit.

You can't hate yourself into improvement.

A few years back I found myself staring at two preteens, my eldest and her bestie at the time, on New Year's Eve Eve. The bestie was a fixture in my house but they were sitting in my living room chatting about New Year's Resolutions and what they were going to resolve for the New Year.

I was rather upset at how much of their ideas focused around the negative - the reduction of themselves. I want to take up less space (lose weight). I want to not feel dumb (better grades). I want to be less annoying (habit training). Recognizing that this was a direct reflection of their adults, myself included here, I knew I had to redirect.

Neither girl was being horribly self-critical but those lines are awfully blurry for adults; they have to be damn near invisible for burgeoning teenagers. In reality, there was nothing wrong with their goals aside from the sort of icky idea that they, svelt and slender pre-teens, felt pressure to lose weight. But resolutions wander awfully close to goals and I saw an opportunity to give them better tools to set attainable goals.

And here we see that Vision Board enters the chat.

Gwenna, you can't trick us. Vision Board and Resolution are different names for the same damn thing. Okay, I'll give you that the names are interchangeable thanks mostly to Pinterest. But I do them a little different. Stay with me. Back to the story.

I unrolled a giant sheet of butcher paper and handed them some crayons.

Roll of White Butcher Paper

(Pro parent tip: Buy a roll of unwaxed butcher paper. And yes, that's an affiliate link. Use it and I might get paid. I'm legally required to disclose that. The amount of times you end up needing a big ass sheet of paper is innumerable in parenting. Emergency gift wrapping? Butcher paper. Surprise snow day? Butcher paper. Toddler-sized Bob Ross? Butcher paper. Messy dinner? Butcher paper. Navigating teenage self-doubt and goal-setting? Butcher paper.)

I encourage both girls to think about big goals. Not just in the short term, not just in the now. But big big. What do you think you want to do after high school? College? When you grow up, what mark do you want to leave on the world?

Now, trust me, I did not have high expectations of their vision for the future being a solid plan, an immovable object, or even a good, attainable idea. I just needed to get them outside the internet-planted ideas that skinny, pretty, rich were the only goals worth chasing. I think one of them wrote down animal trainer. The other one wrote down architect. Okay, cool. I asked them whether they thought they wanted to get married or live that single mingle life, kids or fun auntie, a big home or a cottage in the woods.

For all intents and purposes, I played MASH with them without the spiral counting and element of chance. Once we had some sort of vision for the future written down, I drew a big circle around each of their "Big Goals." From there we started backward brainstorming ways we could get ourselves there. If college is the goal, what's the step right before that? Graduate high school. Fair, so what's the step right before that? And before that? And before that? Just survive seventh grade? Yep. That's doable. What is going to help you do that?

We wrote down those steps as the girls thought of them and connected each of those to a big, big goal. My eldest wrote down that she wanted to be married just once. She'd already lived through the aftermath of my divorce and while she bore no ill-will for my decision to dump her dad, she wasn't interested in faffing around with poor partner choices. And, quite honestly, that's incredibly valid.

This gave us this bridge to discuss break-ups & relationships, casual flings and committed partnerships. We were able to drill down to a viable goal for her as a thirteen-year-old that would eventually aid her in a romantic relationship and the monumental task of deciding who, when, and why to marry someone that wasn't nearly so lofty as "Don't marry someone I'll later have to divorce." Communication is key and learning how to listen is hard. So we crafted a goal that improved her listening skills.

The goal that went on her vision board was "Give Bestie silent rant sessions." We even went so far as to define what a rant session was; ten minutes of listening, no responses except clarifying questions or general noises of "I'm still paying attention, please continue."

We continued this process until we had a solid vision for the future and attainable, trackable goals that helped move us toward that vision. Again, I was under no delusions that most everything they wrote down that day was subject to change. The girls were eleven-ish...maybe twelve (I don't feel like doing the math). There was no need for them to know exactly what to do with their lives. But if they were going to participate in this New Year, New You rhetoric, it felt important to show them how to do it safely.

I also wanted to give them the framework to view self-improvement as things you add, not things you take away. Losing weight is a loss. It's right there in the phrase "LOSE weight." But if the idea is to add to your life instead of subtracting, a better mindset with the same results could be "Run a 10 minute mile" or "PR Lift of x lbs/kgs" or "Ride a rollercoaster." The pursuit of any of these goals will result in a healthier, more stable, and yes maybe even more slender physique. But you're adding to yourself, not simply trying to attack cells of lipids and energy storage.

Four years later and I still do an annual vision board, reinforcing my big goals and forming new ones as some are accomplished or my vision for the future shifts away. (There was a period in my life where I thought I wanted to be a farmer. I don't now and that's okay. Growth is not linear.) Abbi also does a vision board but hers looks a little different now.

You can pull out the butcher paper if you'd like. I'd recommend it if this is the first time you're doing a vision board like this or you can download the guide I use. Whichever floats your boat. But if you, like me, haven't really gotten into the spirit of the New Year, New Me...try it my way. New Year, Same Me but with direction.



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