It’s that time of year again, the time when many of us make New Year’s resolutions. Maybe you’ve resolved to exercise more or to go on a diet to lose weight. Perhaps you’ve decided to increase your time meditating or maybe you just want to stop criticizing your spouse so often.
Whatever it is, if you’re anything like me, you may find yourself starting with immense enthusiasm and then watching with dismay as your best intentions peter out in a short period of time. This can quickly get into a negative, downward spiral of self criticism which actually undermines any positive goals you’re trying to accomplish.
Often New Year’s resolutions come from a negative place. They can have their basis in thoughts of “I’m not good enough” and be efforts to fix who we are.
We seek happiness by believing that whole parts of what it is to be human are unacceptable. We feel that something has to change in ourselves…However, unconditional joy comes about through some kind of intelligence in which we allow ourselves to see clearly what we do with great honesty, combined with a tremendous kindness and gentleness. Pema Chodrin
So how can we bring that kindness, gentleness and compassion to our efforts?
1. First, when you think of a possible New Year’s resolution, move deeper than the surface goal. Ask yourself, what do I really care about, value, long for or need at the deepest level that is motivating me to make this resolution?
Instead of trying to figure it out in your head, take a breath, move into a centered, focused, mindful place and simply leave space for answers to emerge.
For example, if you’re thinking about going to the gym more often or going on a diet, move deeper and tune into what’s beneath the surface strategy. Perhaps there’s a deep desire to care for your body. Really get in touch with what it feels like to have energy, stamina, limber muscles or ease of movement.
If you’ve decided to meditate more often, why are you choosing to do this? Instead of thinking about what you don’t want, tune into what you do want on a deep level. Maybe you’re choosing to meditate because you want some time for yourself in a hectic life. Maybe you just want to slow down a little instead of always rushing, rushing, rushing.
If you’re looking for better communication with family members, is it about becoming more loving and compassionate? Listening more before responding? Noticing sooner when you’re triggered?
Overall, what are your heart’s deepest desires about how you want to be in life, what you want to stand for, what sort of person you want to be?
2. Once you’ve tuned into the underlying needs or values related to your goals, revisit the actions you intend to take. Perhaps there are many different ways of taking care of your body, or many different ways to take more time for yourself or many ways to become more accepting, understanding and appreciative in your life. Choose only one or two actions to pursue at this moment, but keep focus on the underlying needs and values with an openness to many possible strategies. If the first action you choose doesn’t work out, then adjust your action while keeping focus on your overall intention.
3. Now that you’ve decided on the actions you want to focus on, realize that change requires a change in habit. Any routine that you’ve been doing for awhile feels comfortable. It’s automatic. Adding something new probably won’t feel natural at first.
Research indicates that when we repeat behavioral patterns they become imprinted in our neural pathways. We maintain our habitual ways of behaving because that’s just the way our brains work. So how can we establish a new habit? Here’s what the research shows:
Repeat the behavior, until it becomes automatic and effortless which can take up to 10 weeks.
If you persist for the initial 10-week learning period, then the routine will become imprinted in your neurons and maintaining the practice will become close to automatic.
4. Expect that some days there will be resistance. Things will not always work out as expected or you may not see immediate results. That is normal and natural, not a sign of failure.
You can work with any resistance or negativity mindfully. For instance, when you notice negative thoughts, self criticism or judgment, simply acknowledge the thoughts. Remind yourself that “thoughts are just thoughts”. Also, remember the underlying value or need that is your primary motivation.
As Pema Chodrin said: “allow yourself to see clearly what you do with great honesty, combined with a tremendous kindness and gentleness.”
And then simply start again.
5. Finally, give yourself positive reinforcement every time you follow through.
Being successful with making change is about being kind and compassionate with yourself as you continue to gently guide yourself back whenever you lose focus.
I wish you all the best for this bright and beautiful new year.