I have been thinking about resolutions and, simply put, feel we need to throw them out — or more accurately, get rid of them as we know them. A resolution is “a firm decision to do or not to do something” and at no time is the perceived urgency and self-imposed strictness of such decisions felt as strongly as when it comes to new year resolutions in particular. As another year wraps up, we start to feel the weight of the load we have put on our minds, bodies, and hearts. We begin to feel a burning need for big change; and we believe we will achieve that by setting stern rules to force ourselves out of our past behaviours.
The problem is: it probably hasn’t worked before, has it?
The problem lives not within our desire for change; in fact, that yearning is what drives our personal growth. Instead, the factors that trip us up are: the guilt and shame for not already being ‘better’; the impersonal timing of the calendar-determined new year; and the strictness under which we must abide.
First off, an invisible yet pervasive challenge in making change is the guilt and shame we feel for not being something different than we are, or for making the ‘wrong’ decisions time and time again. We believe we are lazy, incapable, and uncommitted and we criticize ourselves for not being ‘good enough.’ And because of the way things go, we manifest more of that struggle and self-defeat in our efforts to grow. However, we can try on the notion that there are no right or wrong decisions if we choose to believe in the necessity for growth and in the potential for all circumstances to be learning opportunities. Rather than berate ourselves for the habits, conditioning, and addictions that make the journey more curvy than straight, we can instead approach our challenges with an open and curious heart, developing our ability for self-compassion and inquiry. We can foster patience and acceptance in order to outweigh the mind’s attempts to derail our efforts.
“Rather than berate ourselves for the habits, conditioning, and addictions that make the journey more curvy than straight, we can instead approach our challenges with an open and curious heart, developing our ability for self-compassion and inquiry.”
The next challenge is all the fuss made every year around December 31st/January 1st. While the end of the calendar year can certainly be made into an opportunity to reevaluate where we are and where we wish to go, we might find that our big calls for change come in the middle of April or as the leaves start to turn crimson with autumn’s arrival. If we are not already comfortable with honouring our own natural rhythms and understanding our own seasons, any resolutions we forcefully set on December 31st will likely feel (or prove to be) shallow or unripe. If we tune into our inner wisdom, we instead set natural (and realistic) intentions that are more inline with the most authentic needs of our present selves.
And then there is the ‘all or nothing’ attitude standing in our way. It often looks like this: an urge comes calling, or a lightbulb of insight flickers, convincing us that it’s time to start hitting the gym regularly or commit to giving up our favourite food vice. We then make grand statements by buying a yearlong gym pass or swearing off coffee indefinitely. And sometimes this works, although I believe infrequently. The problem with these mental lightbulbs or flashes of insight is that they are often impermanent; the mind’s beliefs shift feverishly. When the tide of thoughts shift, we quickly give up on the inspiring ideas as swiftly as they came into our awareness.
So what do we do – give up entirely? Well, it may be a matter of semantics, but I propose that instead of resolution setting, we begin to consciously craft intentions for how we wish to proceed in this life. An intention is “an aim or plan.” Taking the wisdom of our highest selves into deep consideration, we begin to create a thoughtful plan for how we wish to enhance our manner of living. During heartfelt intention setting and enacting, we watch closely the mind’s attempt to sabotage with shame or guilt; we ride in with non-judgment and curiosity. We also honour our own natural rhythms, having patience for the days when things don’t come as easily or clearly. Intuition is heightened as we begin to reflect honestly on our deepest needs and the inner knowing of how to acquire them. And finally, we save room for our evolving humanity — that is, we don’t expect ourselves to be perfect. That does not mean we make excuses for ourselves at every turn, but we compassionately allow for conditioned behaviour that does not fit our higher goals. We slowly start to make those behaviours the exception rather than the rule.
“…we begin to consciously craft intentions for how we wish to proceed in this life.”
If we choose to believe in continual personal and collective evolution, we understand that our best efforts and current behaviours will continually change and grow alongside us. We can then set intentions for ourselves that are realistic, pushing us just enough to remind us of how incredible we are without derailing all of our best efforts. We set intentions that continually inspire us; that uplift us rather than berate us, that accept who we are at present while still believing in growth.
2019 looms. If you feel a ‘new you’ calling, what intentions can you thoughtfully set to help guide yourself there? Quiet the mind and follow the heart. I would love to hear your thoughts; feel free to share your intentions in the comment section below.