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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.