Inside your head it will soon be a different year. And if you’re not careful your culture might teach you a bunch of ideas that do little more than set you up for failure over the next couple of months. New Years Resolutions are rightly the stuff of comedy because of course–people are who they are. Where the Earth is in relation to the Sun has essentially nothing to do with peoples daily behaviour. But that’s not to say there isn’t a useful kind of resolution you can make. It’s just that, like with most things, they’re made better by being less absolute.
Most people resolve to eat better or go to the gym or get angry less often or whatever. So they make themselves a promise. But what does some words that ran through your head on one day have to do with a decision you make about a piece of cake three weeks later? Nothing. Which is why the resolutions are great fodder for comedians every January and February–because people will generally quit trying if the very structure of the commitment virtually dooms them to think they have failed.
A promise to yourself or anyone else is just some words you assembled in your head. You live moment by moment and promises are about lengths of time. You only live now. What causes someone to be able to “live up to” their promise isn’t because they are being prodded toward this or fenced away from that by some invisible collection of words in their head. It’s because they genuinely still believe in the reasons behind why they made the promise in the first place. So each moment lived is like the promise being enacted by the verb of being.
Are you starting to understand the true nature of a promise or commitment? A husband isn’t faithful because he said he would be on some alter. That’s ridiculous. He is faithful because he genuinely wants to be with his partner more than any other person. When he is tempted toward infidelity what stops him in those moments is his ongoing awareness of his love for his partner. Since nothing else compares to his partner’s value to him, it’s an easy risk to avoid. The point of this example being: promising something—even on January 1st at midnight—doesn’t really mean much if that promise isn’t wholehearted. You need to believe that idea just as completely in the moments going forward or that promise cannot be kept.
What can work is a resolution to develop in a certain way. So rather than saying, on January 1st I’m going to quit smoking—which sets up a ton of expectation to live up to or fail to live up to—instead you can say something more along the lines of, starting January 1st I’m going to see how long I can go without smoking and then if needed, I’ll chain efforts like that together until I’ve quit completely. This is a commitment to move in a certain direction. But this removes the failure from a Bunny Hop. When people do the two-jumps-forward-one-jump-back Bunny Hop Dance, yes they do dance backwards for one jump. But that is less important than what they do in total, and in total a Bunny Hop moves forward. No sailboats sail straight in the direction they are going. You don’t need to either.
Forget about the usual goals this year. Forget about losing weight or using your phone less or yelling less. Make it all positive instead. Plan to have regular dinners with a friend with healthy eating habits. Research how much time the average adult your age spends looking at their phone and then choose an activity you’ve always been interested in that uses that much time. Or instead of trying not to yell, try to be more loving more often. Anything you practice becomes a habit. And that way instead of feeling like you’re deprived or struggling, you can have a nice dinner with a friend or take up a hobby you never thought you had time for or your life will feel awesome because it has so much more love in it. Win win win.
Do you see? Don’t see the new year as a hill you need to get over. Don’t see it as an obstacle to your success. See it as an opportunity to use your increasing wisdom to recognize the value in your true self. So rather than resolving to improve yourself by fixing problems, you can instead resolve to realize more of yourself by engaging in life in a way that inspires and enthuses you.
Forget the traditional resolutions. Accept that this year–like every year–will have its challenges. But don’t make this year about the outside world. Make this year about the universe under your control. Make this year the year you become mindful. Because you can win the lottery and handle that well, and you can totally fail at something and you can handle that well too. It all depends on how you think about those things. So if you resolve anything, resolve to simply watch your own thinking. Because even if you just do that you will most certainly change your life for the better.
Here’s to a great year for all of us. Happy New Year everyone.
peace and love. s
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.