Posted on January 10, 2021

New Year's resolutions the ikigai way

Boat

Falling off the resolution wagon

Well here we are, nearly 10 days into 2021 already and if you’re the sort of person who likes to set New Year’s resolutions, I’m going to hazard a guess that perhaps you are already beginning to waver a bit and wondering if you will really be able to keep them going for the rest of the month, let alone the whole year. Which is probably involving some negative self-talk. And perhaps a glass of wine, even though you fully intended to do Dry January too.

I’m not a great fan of new year’s resolutions anyway, I think they often cause more stress than the good they’re supposed to be helping you to achieve, and that’s often because we put unrealistic expectations on ourselves, or tie them into things that we think we SHOULD be doing or SHOULD be good at, rather than listening to our hearts and following what’s really right for us – in other words, what gives us our real sense of daily drive and purpose, or as the Japanese call it, our ikigai.


Although it doesn’t have an exact translation, ikigai is the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning, the thing that keeps us in flow, focused, humming and smiling throughout the day. It’s a philosophy that I use as a guide for myself and for others who come to me here at Relaxscape for coaching and retreats.

It’s based on five core principles:

  1. Starting small
  2. Harmony & sustainability
  3. Letting go
  4. Joy in the small things
  5. Being in the present moment

Simply put, integrating these principles into your daily life will help you to become more self-aware and more focused. Once all five are in sync you will feel in flow, and that’s what gives you your ikigai, your sense of purpose.

So perhaps by applying the ikigai approach to your New Year’s resolutions, you might begin to see that by choosing to develop yourself and/or your skills in ways that fit more within your overall values, you’ll actually enjoy the challenges you have set for yourself, and they will begin to make more sense – you’ll feel more in control and more satisfied with your achievements and life.

Starting small

This is about taking one step at a time, and understanding that self-care is important too, so being realistic, and knowing your sensible limits. This might mean concentrating on only a couple of areas, rather than trying to tackle everything all at once, or it might mean breaking a big undertaking down into more manageable chunks. It’s also about remembering that every day is a new day, and you can try again tomorrow!

Harmony & sustainability

Everything in this world is connected and so to keep everything flowing smoothly and in balance we need to nurture everything around us – nature, the environment, our community, other people as well as ourselves. Sustainability is also about keeping yourself strong and healthy. Remember that energy flows both ways, so this means that if you concentrate on creating positive energy around you, you will have more positive experiences in your life. How can you make sure your resolutions will sustain you and others?

Letting go

This is arguably the hardest of all to master, but the most liberating once you have achieved it! Letting go of caring. Letting go of things that are holding you back, keeping you in the past, letting go of fear, of worry about the future, or of those thoughts that are keeping you from saying “I can do this”. Letting go of attachment to material things you really don’t need, to negative emotions, to drama, to bad energy. Letting go of trying to control things out of your control. And once you have managed to let go, at the same time it’s much easier to honour the other parts of your life, staying in the present moment, living in harmony, being grateful for the small pleasures in your life, and satisfied with what you have, and not caring about being perfect, or making mistakes, being happy to keep expectations small and start again the next day if need be.

Joy in the small things

Practising gratitude like this can rewire your brain. Open your eyes. Open your heart. Find things that make you smile. Do things that make others smile. Every day. Notice the good things. Be grateful for them – in fact more than that even, enjoy them. Train yourself to be more positive and you will find that it soon becomes an ingrained habit. How can you relate this to the Harmony & Sustainability principle above?

Being in the here and now

Staying present – to be able to do this again requires a combination of the other principles. Being in the present moment requires letting go of dwelling in the already past or unwritten future. Taking joy in the small things helps, actively focusing on what you have around you and in your life right now, accepting that. Staying present is also about understanding that you, and only you, are in control of yourself, and by harmonising your thoughts and actions and reactions, you are creating, and sustaining the harmony in the world around you too.

By definition, New Year’s resolutions are about focusing on a future “new improved” version of yourself, and so in the context of living in the here and now, they are hard to reconcile. Perhaps setting an intention of how you want to be this year, rather than what you want to achieve, would be more sustainable, and bring you more joy. Let go of feeling you need to improve yourself, and concentrate on enjoying what you have, and who you are. Let the energy flow and see where it takes you.

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