New Years Resolutions are so commonly ridiculed these days that you'd be hard pressed to find someone who takes them seriously. That might have something to do with how readily they're broken. Yet, most people would be surprised to learn that keeping your New Years Resolutions isn’t just about willpower. So here are some steps which integrate Mindfulness, Existential Psychology, and Behavioral Psychology to help you take yours deep into 2019:
Step 1: “Mindfulness Wishing”
You may often hear people say things like “why wish for something that can't come true? Why hope or dream if I'm just going to end up disappointed?” We have all probably fallen victim to such thinking at one time or another. It is natural. The fact is, wishing, dreaming, and fantasizing, are all normal, necessary, and unavoidable psychic phenomena. The harder and longer you try to suppress them, ignore them, or distract yourself from them, the more disconnected you will become from your inner-self. According to psychiatrist and psychotherapist Irvin Yalom, wishing is like a fantasy that inspires us to act. Wishes come from our unconscious and gives rise to the awareness of the many choices we can make at a given time. Tapping into your wishes allows your wants to be realized in a genuine way, paving the road to contentment and happiness. It is important to wish because there can be no effective deciding, doing, or willing without it. So in effect, your Wishing and Wanting Goals represent a true wish you have rather than a resolution made in the moment, to conform to others, or an impulse. So let's tap into your wishes right now.
Here’s the Mindfulness Part:
Spend some time alone (maybe 15-20 minutes) and reflect on what would be an important change for you to make in the coming year. See whatever comes-up, whether it has to do with health, relationships, financial goals or special interests. Write it down or make a mental note no matter how insignificant. Focus on each goal and let your mind wander. Identify the thoughts and feelings which motivate each goal. Be cautioned that sometimes these changes or goals may come from critical sources, whether imagined or real and its best to just note them and let them go… like a cloud drifting by.
Ask yourself which one goal from that list would be most important and meaningful for you to achieve in the coming year. Got your list? We may proceed.
Step 2: Deciding
“Every yes involves a no”. Deciding means to commit to a choice that is only one of an infinite number of choices you could be making. With every choice you make there are many, many others you have to choose to relinquish. It is time to make a decision to actualize this goal and the choices that go with it.
One way to think about this “decision” is to think about commitment. How committed will you be to this wish, want, and to this decision that follows? Be honest! Just like you must own your wishes and your feelings, you must own your decisions. They are yours and only yours. A helpful, albeit scary exercise might be to think about how all of our time on this planet is finite and indeterminable. Essentially, time is always running out. Think ahead 10 or 20 or 30 years from now and imagine yourself looking back at today if you never made the commitment to change now. How filled with regret would you be? Or if you changed now, how filled with pride and satisfaction? You do not have the liberty to put off making a decision any longer, it has to be made now. There is only this moment. Make a commitment today to improve your life. It is the only one you have (even if you believe in the after-life) to make these changes.
Decision lives in The Domain of Doing, so you are on your way. At this point it is critical that you break down your overarching goal (e.g., losing weight) into more specific, realistic, and manageable parts.
Behavioral research shows that The Secret to Successful Doing are Goals which are:
Specific - “I’ll work out 3x/week” vs “I will work out again”
Achievable – should be “realistic” and does NOT require overwhelming amount of effort – even if it means starting with just walking to the gym without entering. Another tip: Research shows that having a “buddy” to commit to a goal with helps the odds of it being achieved. So consider speaking with a friend that will “keep you honest” on your goal and that you can do the same for as well. Even better, if you share the same goal you can integrate your plans together.
Measurable - as in being able to measure the number of steps you’ve accomplished, framing validation and progress helps keep the resolution going forward.
Step 3: “Willing” and Willpower!
You’ve determined the goals that are true to your heart and are realistic. You’ve chopped them up to easy measurable steps that you should have no problem achieving. So how do you actually - you know - do the thing you want to do over a long period of time? Enter, stage right: “Willing” and Willpower.
Willing, again according to Yalom (1980), requires the recognition that you are the person responsible for making decisions. We will ourselves to act and we must limit how much we blame circumstances or others for those choices. Get in touch with this “willing” part of yourself. Think back to a previous moment in which you were inspired to commit to positive change and followed through. Notice what happens when you come up against a challenge; see if you find yourself making excuses and saying “you can't” do something. Accept that it may feel “impossibly” difficult and do it anyway. Feelings are not facts.
Increasing Willpower (see below) often requires gradual changes in habits, taken in small steps, in addition to modifying ones environment and optimizing physiological factors.
When to seek help...
If you continue to get stuck at this stage and find that no matter how much you seem to want to achieve a goal, no matter how carefully you develop the strategy, and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t even – then it may be time to look into getting some professional assistance. Here, your therapist can become your Mental Coach.
More on Willpower
The concept of willpower and how it works is complicated, but rather well-studied and worth a careful read. It includes ways of managing your willpower so as to give yourself the best chance to succeed at any goal you set. This is a solid place to start with a summary from the American Psychological Association's website http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/willpower.aspx
Every once in awhile, circle back to the first step and meditate upon the reason you made this goal. No change is easy. Even though we are all changing--at all times--we tend to be hard-wired to think of ourselves as static creatures, and create numerous conscious or unconscious ways of trying to maintain consistency and resist change. So we have to be aware that change is both natural (and real), but also contradicts our very way of experiencing the world and ourselves. This is a challenging duality that all of us can learn to accept better over time through patience and practice.
There you have it. All the steps laid out in front of you to make meaningful change in 2010. Nota bene; If you got to this post after the 1st or had some challenges along the way and need to start over, don't worry! New Years Day is really an arbitrary resolution day. It is never too late to make your life better now.