Key Things to Think About When it comes to Your New Year’s Resolution
Here we go again. Does the thought of entering the New Year actually fill you with dread after the champagne wears off? Another year, another set of resolutions that seem to lose steam by February? How often have you heard yourself say, “This year, I’m REALLY going to do it!” as the clock ticks down to midnight and Old Lang Syne designates another year past? And how often does the excitement and resolve begin to trickle not much after January 2nd?
Why is this? Why does 90% of the resolution making population fail to achieve what they initially set out to accomplish with so much fervor?
Allow me to (very) loosely borrow from the teachings of the yoga tradition when I say that we really don’t have a shot in hell of accomplishing our goals if they are not aligned with a higher purpose, or dharma - an overriding reason for being here.
Every action is rooted in thought and every thought is rooted in desire. Thus the life you have now is a result, whether conscious or unconscious, of your desires. It’s not a big leap to say that our New Year’s resolutions are, essentially, a desire to fulfill a longing - something that we want but don’t have. The longing for a new job. The longing to lose weight. The longing for a romantic partner. Pardon the clichés, but they are clichés for a reason. Many of us long for the very same things.
The teachings also tell us desire is inherent in being human. I will go against some other spiritual teachings when I say it is unnecessary to squelch desire. Nor should we want to. Desire can lead to some very positive results. Often our desires for something to be different will lead us to a new job, a necessary break up or a move. When our desires are aligned with purpose, our resolution is a result of a true longing of the soul as opposed to one based in egoistic and/or simple material gain. The word in Sanskrit (the language of yoga) that corresponds with this notion is sankalpa or intention formed in the heart. San referring to a connection with the highest truth and kalpa being a vow or rule followed above all others.
I am about to attempt to distill some very dense and esoteric philosophy into a bullet list, but these concepts are important ones if we expect to see real change in our lives.
When considering making your resolutions, ask yourself these questions:
- Why do I want to fulfill my resolution?
- Is my resolution what I really need at this point in my life?
- How reasonable is it to achieve this resolution?
- Do I have the will necessary to achieve this resolution?
These questions may help you discover how meaningful your resolutions really are.
Let’s use a classic New Year’s resolution example - weight loss. Question number one will immediately help you assess the significance of your desire to drop a few lbs. If your answer sounds more like, “I am tired all the time and I don’t have the energy to participate fully in my life,” or “My health is at risk,” as opposed to, “I want to be SKINNY like that model in SHAPE magazine!” then you’re on the right track. There is a lot more at stake in the first two answers. The third is a fleeting whimsy based on insecurities and self-doubt promoted by media’s image of health. This is still, however, valuable knowledge, so take note. What you are truly seeking may be acceptance and self-love. Keep asking the question, “Why?”
Second, take some time to reflect and assess what you need right now. Is losing weight the most important goal for you to set, or could your weight gain be due to you consistently turning to the fridge for comfort because you hate your job? Maybe the first thing that needs to change is your career. Set priorities and then goals accordingly.
Third, given your current circumstances, is this a reasonable goal? For example, if I were a unicorn, I would pack my things (although if I were a unicorn, I don’t suppose I would have things), fly to Sydney and live there for 2016. However, I am not a unicorn, nor am I a trust fund child and a plane ticket is pretty pricey. I’m setting myself up for failure. What I can do is make a resolution to be wiser about my budget and save a set amount of money for those ‘what if’ circumstances down the road.
And here comes the big one - the word we always hear in conjunction with failed resolutions - willpower. If your resolution is worth it, rest assured, accomplishing it will not be a joy ride. You are going to face some challenges. Do you have the strength to overcome your obstacles, which, by the way, may be internal and/or external forces? This is the main reason why most of us fail to accomplish our resolutions. At a certain point, when the going gets tough, even the toughest lose steam - despite your resolution meeting all prior qualifications. In order to achieve what we set out to on January 1st, we need what the yoga tradition calls shakti or, loosely translated, energy. And more specifically sankalpa shakti - the power of resolve.
And that is a whole other topic of discussion, but for now start with these questions and I’ll help you build shakti next month!
Deepest gratitude to my teacher, Rod Stryker and his book, The Four Desires for help defining these concepts and guiding principles.