I've always said that I don't make New Year's Resolutions (NYR), that they don't work, they don't stick. But I often find myself coming to the end of December and thinking about what I'm going to do differently in January. In fact, if you go all the way back to the very first blog post (Jan 1, 2014) I said, "I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. They don’t stick. But every year as January 1st looms I wonder what new things I should resolve to do." I just wrote my first two sentences before I went back and looked at 2014, but it proves my point: we are creatures of habit.
As I looked back at 2019 (see previous post on Saṁskāras) I asked myself why I did the things I did last year — what was I trying to get from my actions. When we do something it's because it gives us something in return — a feeling, a response, something more tangible perhaps — but boiled down it's usually about the emotional response we ourselves receive from the action. What do I get from teaching a class? What do I get from eating a bag of potato chips in bed at 10pm? What do I get from reading a book? What do I get from going to the gym? Of course, there are the rewards that occur outside of ourselves — helping others, creating a better world, begin healthy — and those are all valid and important, but they will not be the things that drive the habits we repeat and the things that we will do day after day. We can use the things outside of ourselves as the goal (helping others), but it's going to be an interior feeling that will help you create a habit of doing a specific thing to help others. If helping others means that you are alone every day without social interaction, and you require social interaction to be healthy, you'll stop doing the thing because although it might be helping others, it might make you feel drained.
So, two steps, not just making a resolution. Naming your goals, and then decide the method, system, or creating the habit, by which you will be able to achieve those goals.
I recently saw this video from JP Sears about Setting Goals. Watch this! (5 min)
Okay, so either you watched it and are now feeling super inspired to set some amazing goals for yourself, or you didn't and you need a synopsis: Align your goals with your heart's desires from a place of "I'm already enough." If you want to lose weight so that you'll be enough, so you'll be loved and accepted, you likely won't lose the weight. If you want to lose weight because you value yourself and know that you'll be doing a good thing for the body that you love, you likely will. By the way, I don't think you need to lose weight, nor do I think it should be a goal, I just used it as the example because after the feasting of the holidays it's probably the #1 NYR. Take a few minutes and write down some goals for 2020 (one is great, more is good, but don't do too many because achieving them all will be difficult, and then you're just setting yourself up for failure, and let's not use this exercise to prove to yourself that you're not worthy, because you are!).
Did you write down a goal or two? (It's okay to do it later, too.) Finding a goal is not difficult. There are many things we would say that we want to do. (Move more, acts of kindness, go on a trip, take a course, finish [or start] a project, live differently in some way or other.) The tricky part is how to get it done. It might be as simple as emailing a friend and setting up a weekly meeting — if someone else is going to be there, there's a better chance you'll be there, too, plus you'll have a benefit of a social engagement that might be an internal reward for yourself. You might want to sign up for a class, or get a journal where you write things down. These are some of the things that I know I've traditionally done when trying to reach a goal.
But when it comes down to it, heading towards your goal will require taking steps in that direction daily. It won't be about who you want to be, but about who you are every day. Buying the journal is one thing — writing in it every day is another thing entirely. So, find that intrinsic motivation. It might be harder in the winter months, when it's cold and dark out. We are less likely to go for an hour-long walk every day starting when it's -20° outside. We don't yet know the good feeling that comes when we walk, so that internal reward won't motivate us to get up and go. Don't expect it to be easy, expect it to be difficult, and expect it to be daunting at times. I tell my kids all the time, if it's worth it, it's going to be hard work. But maybe start in the winter months with the getting up earlier, and doing something indoors. When the warmer weather appears, you can transition to walking outside instead. By next winter, you might have established the habit of getting up and going for a walk, and the cold weather might not be daunting enough to deter you from that amazing feeling of fresh air and movement in nature that you've been enjoying.
So we have two parts to this NYR: the goal, and the habit. The goal is the who (me!), what (task) when (date by which task is accomplished, if there's an end-date), where (depends on the goal, and might not be location specific), and why (and the why needs to be aligned with your values and your sense that you are enough). The habit is the how. If you're looking for a book to read on habits, a good book is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhig. Another book I would highly suggest is James Clear's Atomic Habits (and sign up for his weekly 3-2-1 Thursday email). His book picks up where Charles Duhig leaves off, building on it.
I found these books really helpful in unpacking what a habit is, how it's formed, why I might continue to do something that CLEARLY isn't helping me. It's all about habits. Take some time to figure out why you do what you do, and then you might see what it is in your that you are trying to achieve, and there might be a better way to do that. When we understand our motivations (to feel loved, to manage stress, or to feel in control, for example) we can ditch the habitual behaviours that are trying to meet those needs. If I'm feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, yes, a Netflix binge will help me avoid that feeling for a while, but it doesn't really de-stress me. Figuring out that the Netflix binge is about stress (and not about finishing the 6th season of Blacklist because it's so worth my time — of course this is not an example from my real life, not at all). Figure out what motivates you, and use that to help you forge a new path.
The doing of the thing, the holding ourselves to account and creating that new habit can help build resilience. If you set out to do a thing, and even though it's hard you get it done, you'll learn something new about yourself. You can do that new, difficult thing, and even though it was tough to accomplish, you did it. It reminds me of the quote by the Sufi poet Rumi: If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished? Let yourself be rubbed, get uncomfortable, push yourself outside of your comfort zone, and become something amazing. Use your understanding of yourself to make smart choices, and set up habits that will feed the goals that align with who you are, coming from your place of self-worth.
How will you be polished this year? Ditch New Year's Resolutions. Instead, set your goals, create your systems, and make it stick. Let's make 2020 an amazing year.
p.s. Classes start again Saturday, January 4 at 9:30 am.
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