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Retrograde Medicine for Resolution Making

Updated: Jan 5

The New Year is here, and ’tis the season for Resolutions! During a Mercury Retrograde. And a Mars Retrograde. Uhm…

If you feel like you’re dragging your feet on writing those New Year’s Resolutions, or you feel like you can’t pinpoint specific ideas or you’re not even sure what changes you want, know that this is partly being facilitated by these two retrogrades - Mercury, the planet of information, communication, and analysis, and Mars, the planet of activity, implementation, and combat.


Because retrogrades are times when a planet slows down and changes direction (at least from our vantage point here on Earth), energetically this translates into the human experience of pausing the action, planning, and decision making, and instead focusing inward to take inventory of what we need, why we want or are doing things, what we value and is important to us, and assess the course our lives are taking and if we’re happy with both the short- and long-term implications of our choices.

So, quick dose of medicine if this issue is poking at ya: give yourself some extra time and space to let information and inspiration come to you, and use this pause in activity to reflect on the motivation behind making Resolutions in the first place.


Now - if part of you responded to that invitation to pause with, “I can’t put this off, THIS is the TIME! If I don’t get this right, I’ll miss out!” or “This shouldn’t be hard to do, come up with a few changes I want to make, I don’t see why I’m even struggling with it it’s so stupid - I’M so stupid, ugh I’ll figure it out, it’s fine…”

Come, m’dear. Sit for a spell. Allow me to illuminate the shadow side of Resolutions, and maybe demystify why they haven’t felt good or worked out for you.


Before I go further, let me say this: If resolutions work for you, if you find them helpful and inspiring, use them! Do what speaks to you and feels good. However…


If you, either historically or habitually, are someone who

  • has difficulty asking for help, and prefers to deal with things on your own or in secret,

  • is more likely to put your own needs on hold to help someone else,

  • often bases connection on being useful, helpful, available, and/or needing nothing in return,

  • feels happiest when everyone else is happy and will do what it takes to ensure the other stays happy, thus keeping your world steady and peaceful,

then Resolutions are actually really. triggering. things. for you.


These traits I’ve just outlined are examples of Survival Adaptations - behaviors, perceptions, and identities that are developed from a need to establish and/or ensure safety. Safety could mean being loved, having a place to live, keeping a job, maintaining an image or persona, being accepted by a group you value. When we’re young and our essential needs for safety and belonging are, at the least, unpredictable or, at worst, taken away, our clever, wonderful brains find a way to make sure those needs get met and we survive.


Here are some of the common ways that happens:



Perfectionism - always being the good one, the achiever, never needing help or direction or attention - prevents us from being a burden or strain on what we perceive is an already delicate division of resources and an erratic sense of safety.

Hyper-productivity - doing the most, always volunteering to help, taking on as much responsibility as possible, always being available often to the point of personal depletion - preserves our place in the family/community/social system through the idea that “if I’m needed, they won’t get rid of me.”

Hyper-individuality - not asking for help or refusing it when it’s offered, making yourself responsible for finding the solution to every problem, not wanting to trouble others with cause to worry about you, and deeply identifying with the mantra “I’ve got this, I’m tough, I can take it” - keeps the target off our backs when the ones we fear but depend on are looking for a reason to be upset. We can’t be blamed, criticized, or rejected if they barely know we’re here in the first place.

People-pleasing - prioritizing the comfort and happiness of others above all else, sacrificing your own needs and dreams because they are inconvenient for or run counter to someone else’s, being loved for how we make others feel without being loved for who we are, and being agreeable to the point of betraying our own values or compromising our dignity - gives others no reason to find fault with us so they won’t reject or abandon us, curries favor to trust and accept us, and is a conditional substitute for unconditional love (but better something than nothing).


What do these Survival Adaptations have to do with New Year’s Resolutions?


Well, Resolutions, as they’re commonly practiced these days, are often rooted in these very Survival Adaptations.

“Make your body/bank account/home life/social life look more like these standards of success set by society!” (lose weight, have more or better sex, travel to luxurious picturesque places, manifest more money, etc.)

“Become a self-made boss-babe who takes no shit and can achieve/manifest anything!”


It’s often not much more than repackaged Perfectionism and its cadre of coping mechanisms.


The foundation of making Resolutions has become, “You’re not good enough as you are, so do more to be better.” And that messaging, however overt or subliminal, hits right at the core of the identity trauma wound that people with these Survival Adaptations carry which says, “Who I am is not safe to be. Who I am is not likable, lovable, acceptable, or worthy of care. To belong and get my essential needs met, I must become someone else…someone better.”


So I refer back to the beginning of this post - perhaps the medicine you need is already available to you through the Mars and Mercury Retrogrades: reflect on and reassess why you’re setting the Resolutions you are, and why you feel you even need to change in the first place.


The insight you glean from that internal review could help influence the way you treat yourself and make choices in the New Year. Rather than running straight into what you “should” do and set arbitrary Resolutions, pause first and prioritize your own pace, your own needs, and your own reasons.


If you’re thinking, “I get it…and…I still want to set goals for myself! How can I do that in a healthy way?” Boo, I got you.

To create some distinction, I’m going to use the word “intentions” for the approach I’m suggesting, and Resolutions will refer to everything I’ve talked about up to this point.


Intentions that honor your integrity, needs, boundaries, and self-worth are rooted in self-connection and create space for you to learn and mature. Intentions ask you to assess where you’re making choices that compromise your authenticity and dignity, or are perpetuating patterns that run counter to your values. They start with curiosity about what could be different, and invite opportunities for experimentation and exploration around who you’re willing to be and how you’re willing to move through the world in order to experience the changes you’re attracted to.


As I’ve mentioned previously, Resolutions are framed by external expectations - bringing yourself closer to an idea or an idealized version of who you “should” be.

So in the spirit of integrating Retrograde medicine into Resolution making, here’s how you can set Intuively-Inspired Intentions instead!


Fair warning: this exercise might be easier to do with a trusted friend or Coach (ahem…😉 ) or even your therapist - depending on the nature of the intentions you’re looking to set and any neurodivergence needs you have or mental health challenges you’re navigating. This process can put you in touch with some painful memories or even traumatized parts of Self, so please listen to yourself, go slowly, stop when necessary, and include the support that makes this safe for you.


Setting Intuitively-Inspired Intentions



1. Acknowledge, Accept, and APPRECIATE What IS


This step can be tough one to start with but, when approached with compassionate curiosity toward yourself, it ultimately unwinds a lot of tension and apprehension.


When we’re uncomfortable or living through the lens of a Survival Adaptation, what we seek more than anything is relief from our current state or situation. This can lead to somewhat fantastical thinking or, at the very least, dissociative daydreaming. We’re no longer focused on addressing the immediate concerns because we’re caught up in what could be, and the present circumstances, like any untreated wound, can fester.


The value of being present with the pain, of acknowledging, accepting, and YES appreciating where you’re at now, is two-fold (at least):


  • Where you’ve been informs where you’ll go. Your choices are based on the information you acquire and experiences you have over time. When that isn’t fully processed and integrated, the lesson doesn’t sink in. Think of having to re-read a paragraph because you realize where you are in the story doesn’t make sense - something feels skipped or missing. Life is similar. Have you found yourself in a situation and thought, “How did I end up here?” If you’re not consciously making choices, you’re being unconsciously driven. And that ride can end in a situation that feels simultaneously familiar and undesirable, because you’re just doing what you know instead of going in new directions informed by new ideas and influences.


  • Running away from something isn’t the same as moving toward something. Without taking the time to understand why you’re unhappy, uncomfortable, unfulfilled, how will you know what happy, comfortable, or fulfilled feels like for you specifically? Aiming for “not this” leaves a lot of open options - which can be exciting! If you have the nervous-system capacity and resourcing to experiment. But if you’re in survival mode, if it feels like change is an urgent necessity, “not this” doesn’t give the direction or definition to identify the opportunities that meet your needs. Having a clear vision of what “moving forward” looks like needs to first be grounded in where you are, so you can map out steps that consider your capacity (of energy, money, time, responsibilities, etc.), reflect your values, and meet your needs.

The important thing to remember in this step is that this is only about right now. It’s not forever. Admitting ‘what is’ doesn’t doom you to repeat it in perpetuity. In fact, bypassing or denying ‘what is’ will more likely cause you to repeat what you don’t want because you’re not clear about what you’re choosing and why you’re choosing it.


2. Assess the ways your wellbeing and progress feel (or don’t feel) supported


When it feels feasible, take the emotion out of the equation for a few moments. Put the feelings of doubt, defeat, frustration, and failure about the state of your life off to the side. In Parts work, this is called “asking for space from our activated parts.” It’s not that these feelings are invalid or being dismissed, you’re simply creating some distance between what the situation objectively is and how the situation subjectively feels to you.


Your feelings are just that, yours - someone else would feel really different about the situation you’re contemplating. That doesn’t invalidate how you feel about it, and you certainly don’t need to feel the same way someone else would. There’s no right or wrong way to feel. My point is simply that how you feel about a situation is subjective and specific to you, and it is separate from the details that define the situation.

When you have the capacity to create this space within yourself (i.e. not when you’re overwhelmed or spiraling in anxiety), make a list of the benefits you’re getting out of the situation. This can be hard because the last thing we want to do is give credit where credit does not feel due. Then list out the drains and detriments of the situation. Try to not make it a venting session, but instead approach this as an opportunity to clarify what do not want in your next situation - and, by contrast, what you do want!

I offer my coaching clients a simple but effective tool I learned in my coaching training.

Divide a list into 4 columns:

  • Must Have

  • Preferably Has

  • Preferably Does Not Have

  • Must Not Have

Transfer the qualities, values, and experiences that you assessed from your current situation and allocate them to the appropriate category. You’re not etching this in stone, you can move things around, add or erase as needed. Be mindful to make those kinds of adjustments based on what’s important to you or feels true for you, not based on how likely you think it is to happen or how practical it does or doesn’t seem. You can do this exercise with pen and paper, in Excel, or even in collage format - whatever works with your wiring!

It might take a few drafts but, once you’re done, you’ll have a clear template of what’s been working and what hasn’t, and that will make it so much easier to identify a more desirable and authentically-aligned situation. It also puts your needs at the center of your choice making, rather than comparing yourself to others or doing what you think you “should” do when you know it doesn’t feel good.


3. Commit to the Feeling, Not the Form, of Your Intention


Here, shift from ‘what is’ and has been to what you hope will be. Write down those intentions!


Obviously you’re going to start with what the intention is, right? The materialized, actualized, Earth-bound version of the thing. Good, flesh ‘em out and get really familiar with what it is.

Then…


Think about how you’re hoping or assuming those intentions, once fulfilled, will make you feel. Why? Because that’s what you’re actually after.


The intention is the embodiment of the experience you wish to have.


And when you understand why you want what you want, you are able to be present with the experience in a way you wouldn’t be otherwise, and you’ll also appreciate and integrate the experience more deeply and fully. In other words, you’ll actually live it rather than just checking it off your list.


I’ll share my own example to illustrate what I mean:

One of my intentions for 2023 is to spend the winter holidays with my nephews. We live across the country from one another. They were born during COVID, so I’ve only met them once and that was just a few months ago! On the surface, it seems like a pretty cut and dry intention, right? Like pretty self explanatory. But when I sit down to physically plan out this intention, some notable obstacles start speaking up:

  • Traveling during the holidays is expensive, and money is tight as it is

  • Traveling, during the holidays especially, is a sensory-overload nightmare

  • Being around children for extended periods of time easily dysregulates my nervous system, no matter how much I love them

  • New York is cold AF in winter and I moved to California to help with my hyper-sensitivity to low, damp temperatures (among other reasons)

Without grounding the ‘what’ of the intention into a Why, these challenges could easily keep me from fulfilling my intention or putting it off until one or all of these became more convenient. But when I examined why this intention feels strong - enough so to set it as a 2023 goal of sorts, I got some important information: It’s important to me to be an active participant in my nephews’ lives, and I want to be a reliable and trusted resource of love and support for them. Being with them at a time that children find so magical and memorable feels like an achievable and effective way to begin cultivating the relationship I hope to have with them as they grow up. When I focus on that Why, the obstacles become equations in need of solutions rather than preventions of my desired outcome.


The Why makes the messy business of manifesting the ‘what’ worthwhile.


So create a column next to your list of written-out intentions and connect a felt experience or a Why to each one. Give yourself space and opportunity to peel back layers of thought and emotion, and see if you can get to the root of why you want what you want, why it’s a priority for you. These questions, in this order, may help:

  • How do I hope this intention will make me feel?

  • What will that feeling give to me or allow for me?

  • What essential need(s) will be met?

  • How does the fulfillment of these needs through this intention enrich my life?


These questions could be journal or meditation prompts, or you could even answer them by pulling Tarot or Oracle cards if using your conscious mind makes things unmanageable!

Of course your own process is welcome, so if these questions feel cryptic or “too woo” you can approach this in your own way.


4. Ask Yourself: Who Am I / Who Am I Not Willing to Be to Achieve or Aquire These Intentions?


Once you’ve identified or clarified what you want and why you want it, a question that is very important and often ignored is, “How does who I am fit with what I want?”

Let me start with an example: “I want a bigger house.” Are you willing to keep a bigger house clean and maintained? How feasible do you find that with the space you currently have? If you struggle with it, do you have the resources to hire someone to do the cleaning, and are you willing to take on the responsibility of managing that? Can you afford the taxes and utility costs, or are you willing to work in the kind of way that allows you to afford these costs?

This line of questioning isn’t meant to deter or defeat you. Not at all! It’s about recognizing what will be asked of or required of you in order to bring your dream into reality, to actualize your intention.


When intentions get grounded in practical details, they become ambitions. They can also become less fun 😂. They lose the illusion of being what will solve or save you from your drudgery and misery, and become something that needs your careful attention, ambition, and action.

Does the intention you have invite you to be a version of yourself that you’re proud of, that expresses your truth, and that you can sustain?

Sometimes the only way to find that out is to be in the position and learn you don’t like it. That’s not a mistake or a failure! That’s genuine success - to have curiosity about something unknown or unfamiliar, to have courage to pursue it, and to have the consciousness to decide whether or not it’s a good fit for you after all.

Being clear about who you’re willing to be (or not to be), in order to do what needs to be done to have what you want to have, is essential because without that information you won’t know what your needs and values are with respect to your actions.

If you don’t know what your needs and values are, you won’t be able to establish and enforce boundaries. Without boundaries, managing resources - be it internal ones like health, dignity, and energy, or external ones like finances, relationships, and time - can quickly become an expense that bleeds you out rather than an investment that builds you up. Without boundaries, you are prone to self-abandonment and self-betrayal - compromising your values or sacrificing your needs for an outcome that, on paper seemed amazing but, in practice, isn’t nourishing you.

If you have to become a version of yourself that you’re ashamed of or find uncomfortable in order to achieve or sustain something that “should” make you happy or proud, it’s not worth it. It’s not the right choice for you, at least not in the moment. While that can feel like an “end” to something you’d hoped for, it’s also a beginning! You get to dive back into the dreamy waters of imagination to discover a new pursuit! The creative process begins again, with new information about what works for you and what doesn’t.



5. Set ‘em and Surrender


It’s important to allow space for information and considerations you’re not aware of, and to accept that there is more at play in life than your plan.

In other words, shit may not happen. Or may not happen when you want, in the way you want.


We all have a limited view of what’s possible. We see only from our personal vantage point, however diplomatic or empathic we are. There is no direct access to the future, because it’s not formed yet - the choices made in the present impact the forming of the future. And we don’t stretch into every corner of the world and therefore don’t fully know in an embodied way what it is to be from a place, to live within its culture and laws, to identify with nationalities, ethnicities, races, and gender expressions other than our own.

So when we make our plans and set intentions around them, there is an element of “…and this may not happen. If that’s the case, I trust in the larger order of life.”

It’s not that you didn’t want it enough or believe in it enough. That could be part of it, but I think that perspective also plays into the Resolutions paradigm - it’s on you. It’s your fault. Do better next time. Fix your mindset and hustle for what you want. Fucking hogwash, I say!


If an intention doesn’t come through, can you meet it (after the feelings of disappointment) with curiosity? “Was there anything I could’ve done differently? Were there parts of me that felt threatened by the parts that were working for change, and how can I help them feel more safe as I grow? Is there something more valuable to me about the way things are now, however irrational it may seem, that the idea of change feels better than achieving change?”


And if the answers are genuinely that you committed fully to your intentions, then it could be that your intentions didn’t fit into the larger picture of life at this time. It may come to be in the future, or at a time when you’re more resourced and can experience the change with less stress and disruption.


There’s so much we don’t know - similar to the way most of Space looks empty but isn’t. There are invisible forces and fields holding planets in place and keeping rotations and revolutions in order! We don’t see them but they’re happening - some can be measured, some can be felt, some are recognized only by the effects they have on the landscape of the Universe. And amid that harmony is the chaos of clashing cosmic bodies that give birth to new moons, new celestial rhythms, and things we haven’t even discovered yet because they’re happening so far out there.


This is true in human life as well. That might sound terrifying, or it may sound thrilling to you! Either way, it’s true. How can you meet yourself with grace through any feelings of frustration, of not being in control, of impatience or resentment when things don’t go according to your plan? What sort of support do you need in those times?

Whatever this New Year holds for you, it will make available to you opportunities to know yourself better, to know others better, and to make more authentic choices in your life. I’m already excited for you! And I’m here to encourage, guide, witness, and support you as you continue to deepen and enrich your relationship with your Self 🖤


With love,

Vanessa

 

Want support setting your Intuitively-Inspired Intentions for 2023?


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