One a recent walk with a friend, she asked me if I had made any New Year’s Resolutions. She’s known me long enough to know that the answer was “no” before I even answered. I have a little bit of an aversion to the typical New Year’s resolutions, because they often seem based on rigid proclamations to do something that you haven’t been able to do in the past but that somehow, being the new year, you will now magically be able to do.
When she told me about her resolutions, two of the three were resolutions were ones she’s made in previous years, which suggests to me they weren’t all that successful in the past. This points to another problem with many resolutions. After a month (or less), they are forgotten and habit energy takes over. We are doing the same things we’ve always done.
Why is change so hard?
In many New Year’s resolutions, commitments to actions are often based on the idea of inadequacy. For instance, losing weight (a common resolution) is often made “so I can feel good about myself.” The problem is not the weight, but the idea that you can’t feel good about yourself right now, just as you are. There can be a subtle aggression to this type of need for “self-improvement.” And, the changes often need to be fast, as in 30 pounds in 30 days, which we know is ridiculous. (We do know that, don’t we?)
Other reasons change is hard is because we often don’t set a clear intention, try to change too much, forget that failure is usually a given, we get sidetracked by negative thoughts and emotions, and we underestimate the process involved in change.
Setting intentions vs. setting resolutions.
I revealed to my friend that I had recently set some intentions to doing some new practices in my daily mediation and yoga routine. I don’t consider these resolutions, but the result of reflections that are ongoing in my life. Rather than a day once a year when I to commit to change, these types of reflections come from my regular mindfulness practice. Daily my practice gives me feedback about what is working and what is not working to bring me joy and connection to my greater purpose. Mindful guidance is more like making tiny corrections as I’m steering a boat down a river so that I’m staying in touch with the river of my life.
Setting an intention to engage to behaviors like exercise, yoga, and meditation based on love and a deep appreciation of who you are much more likely to be successful. And, I do resonant strongly with reflecting on your connection to your inner values and committing to behaviors and practices that arise out of a desire for greater peace and wellbeing and a kind relationship to yourself.
So regardless of whether you made resolutions or not, here are some suggestions for letting mindfulness guide your life and any changes you might make in 2021.
1. Practice mindfulness daily. Set aside at least five minutes every day to sit and be. Notice what is happening inside your body, what emotions are present, and what thoughts you have going through your mind. Sit long enough for these to settle and follow your breath into a little bit of silence. It is at these moments when I get the most important messages of all about how to direct my day and even my life.
2. Add some phrases of lovingkindness. Mindfulness without lovingkindness is not really mindfulness. The essential ingredients of kindness, love, curiosity, openness, and compassion are at the heart of mindfulness. Without them, I have described it as crawling across the desert without water. It is very dry. Water your mindfulness with kindness and watch the garden of self-acceptance and self-compassion grow within your heart. Changes made from a place of self-love are ones that will take root. For a lovingkindness meditation, go here.
3. What do I value? I’m always surprised by how many people don’t reflect on their values regularly, or even at all. Take some time, some paper, and a pen and write a list of your top ten values. Values are things like health, creativity, family, career, patience, kindness, and security. For a longer list, check out Soul Salt’s list here. Then write down behaviors that align with those values. Be specific about what you will do. Journal regularly about how to incorporate these behaviors into your life and notice how these behaviors grow and change throughout your year. Writing down your process helps you to stay connected to the journey.
4. Compassionate Self-Discipline vs. Self-Improvement. In the beautiful little book called Making a Change for Good by Cheri Huber, she talks about the difference between compassionate self-discipline and self-improvement. The latter, according to Cheri, is based on a false premise—that there is something wrong with you– and results in suffering. Whereas, making a commitment and working on it is a compassionate response to loving yourself and wanting to take care of yourself with kindness. For this energy of kindness, it can be very useful to be specific about times and places where you will engage in the activities that you’d like to accomplish.
5. Embrace the Journey. Have patience with yourself. What we often do is decide on something we want to do, do it, and feel good, then forget to do it (because it is not yet a habit) and beat ourselves up about it. You feel so bad about “failing” that you give up completely. With mindful self-compassion, however, you understand it’s all just a part of the journey. You start over every day fresh and with a sense of wonder. How can I align with my values today? Maybe I need to tweak my original commitment in some way to better fit my life.
Let mindfulness lead the way today and every day. No need to wait for a new year to feel the guidance and wisdom from a greater connection to who you are and how you can better value yourself and your life.
For a deeper dive, join me in a live Zoom event on Thursday, January 14, from 6:00 – 7:00 p.m. Central Time through the Daniel Boone Public Library called Using Mindfulness to Make Change Possible. Sign up for FREE.