Already bailed on your goals for the new year? It’s okay—really.
Studies estimate that 80 percent of resolutions made for the new year fail within six months, and many within the first 30 days. It’s not that we’re lazy or uncommitted, or resistant to change. Instead, says life coach and Kripalu faculty member Aruni Nan Futuronsky. It’s about how we’re making our resolutions in the first place.
“Thinking about what in our lives we might want to be different is powerful and positive,” says Aruni. “But often what we do with those thoughts is not powerful and positive, because we choose to focus on all that we’re doing wrong.”
Instead, she suggests reframing resolutions as a mindful experiment: gathering data about our commitments without any judgment of right or wrong, and making realistic change in a careful, thoughtful way. “We tend to be very all or nothing, especially around the new year,” says Aruni. “And so we declare, ‘I have to go to the gym 13 times a week’ without stopping to ask: Do I even like going to the gym? Because if you don’t, you’re likely going to fail.” If your goal is to meditate daily but you’re not meditating at all, start with 10 minutes a day, and not an hour. Resolutions for January 1st or anytime should follow the idea of ‘progress, not perfection,’"says Aruni. She points to the yogic concept of sankalpa, the practice of setting an intention, as a good way to approach desired change. “Sankalpa is different from a resolution, which I see as a sort of effortful grr,” says Aruni. “It’s a bubbling of the heart, and taking actions to connect from the inside out rather than the mind over.”
And it’s a practice that can be implemented all year long. “It’s funny how in our culture the beginning of the year is such a spark, but I think ongoing mindful self discovery doesn’t have a season,” says Aruni. So cut yourself some slack if you’ve already abandoned your workout routine or haven’t entirely given up the 4:00 pm cookie. Here’s how to implement real change during the rest of the year.
Set an intention. Think about what it is you really want. Then ask yourself what actions you can take to support that. Think of it as the difference between “I’m addicted to caffeine, so I’m going to cut out coffee” and “I think I drink too much coffee when I’m feeling stressed. Going forward, I intend to become conscious of this craving as it arises, let myself feel the feeling, and then let it pass.” Without first tending to the issues that undesirable behaviors stem from, says Aruni, it is much more difficult to implement lasting change.
Take notes. Each week, write down what happens. At the end of the week, assess. Maybe one day you had six cups of coffee. Maybe one day it was three. So maybe zero cups of coffee is unrealistic, and would set you up for failure. Instead, aim for three a day, at least until you’re really ready to decrease that. “Mostly, there needs to be a fluidity and flexibility about the plan,” says Aruni. “That’s how real transformation happens.”
Keep your expectations reasonable. “Incremental change is really hard for people,” says Aruni. “We just want it so much. But we can’t, and shouldn’t, go from A to L.” Experience tells us that changes get integrated one at a time, and that consistency matters. Many of us make multiple resolutions, and that’s too much. Sankalpa is about learning to become realistic about what we expect from our lives and ourselves.
Be kind and gentle. To make change, both action and self-acceptance need to be part of the mix. “You can’t sit on your couch and eat bad foods and expect to change,” says Aruni. “Nor can you be really mean and hard on yourself, because that doesn’t work either. I like to say, ‘I’m exactly perfect just as I am, and I could use a little improvement.’”
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