Rethinking New Year's Resolutions

As the new year approaches, are you finding yourself in the same old resolution rut?

How can things be different? We posed this question to Jill Shoffner. A social worker with nearly 20 years of experience, Jill has spent the last decade working with older adults. Today, she is elder care coordinator manager at Elder Law of East Tennessee, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Jill recommends thinking about changes in terms of intentions, not resolutions. “Resolutions tend to be outcome-focused and can feel a bit judgy, like you’re deficient as you are,” Jill explains “Intentions focus more on the journey with less attachment to specific outcomes.”

An intention can be simple, such as not letting caregiving tasks take over your life. “Caregiving is a marathon, not a sprint,” Jill notes. “If someone has an acute illness, you can suspend your life for a few weeks or maybe a month. But when someone has a chronic illness with no hope of getting better, it’s not sustainable to put your life on hold forever to care for that person.”

What might this intention-setting process look like for caregivers? Jill offers these tips:

First, get clear about what you want to cultivate in your life. Then, write it down. The statement might be something like, “I am able to provide care for my loved one without abandoning myself.”

Once you have your statement, support it with realistic actions that you take daily until they become habits. Jill recommends doing simple things, such as carving out some time every day—and every week—for self-care activities and building from there. “A realistic action might be something like, ‘I will make arrangements for a respite caregiver or another family member to be with my loved one for one hour each week so I can have that time to myself,’” she suggests.

Setting an intention involves paying attention to how you can incorporate these small actions into your life and then following through with those things each day to demonstrate your commitment to your intention. “You have to schedule it in,” Jill counsels. “You can’t say, ‘Oh, if I get the chance, I'm going to do X, Y or Z,’ because that chance will never come. Scheduling your own care into your daily routine will help you stick to your intention.” 

If a person sets an intention to not abandon themselves while caring for someone else, what tends to pull them off track?

Jill sees guilt as the major culprit. “In our culture, women are conditioned to be caregivers,” she observes. “When we take time for ourselves, we’re often told that we’re selfish and that our sole purpose is to take care of other people. Unlearning that conditioning is not something that happens overnight. It takes daily practice.” 

Lack of trust is another obstacle. “It’s easy to fall into the trap of not trusting others to help because they won’t be able to do what you do in the way you do it,” Jill notes. “It may be true that others wouldn't do things the way you would do them, but they could do them.”

Fear of asking for help is a third barrier. “It’s not a sign of weakness if you ask for help,” Jill adds. “It’s a sign of strength. Asking for help demonstrates your love and respect for yourself, and that’s how you provide the best care.”