New Years Resolutions
Author: Becca Edwards
Traditionally most of us herald in the new year with the lyrics of “Auld Lang Syne” (“Should auld acquaintance be forgot…”) ringing in our ears and the promise of the “new year, new you” slogan reverberating in our minds. Caught up in the confetti and a commitment to self-improvement, an estimated 40 percent of the population will make a New Year’s resolution—a promise researchers from the University of Scranton say only 8 percent of us will keep.
Whether you want to return to your “fighting weight,” make 2015 your most financially solvent year or pledge some other turn-of-the-tide vow, could all the build-up surrounding your resolution be tearing you down? For most of us, the answer is yes.
“People have a need to distance themselves from their vices and start anew. Hence the need to reinvent oneself engenders the need to set goals,” said Dr. Jocelyn Evans of Island Psychiatry and Psychotherapy.
“Unfortunately, a large percentage of these high-sounding, self-improvement goals fizzle out by February. Oftentimes people set unrealistic goals for themselves. They are enamored with the idea of reinvention, but unable to attain such lofty objectives. There is a difference between a resolution and an intention,” she continued. “The resolution is the end goal. The intention is the path toward achieving that goal.”
In yoga, the Sanskrit word for intention is “sankalpa” and it is comprised of two smaller words—“kalpa,” which means vow and “san,” which refers to a connection with the divine truth. (Note: The word “divine” means different things to different people but ultimately leads us to look deeper within ourselves and our world.) By practicing sankalpa, we exercise a more conscious effort toward real betterment.
“When we say we want to do ‘X,’” explained Jean Rioux, owner of Jiva Yoga Center, “we are talking about an intangible ideal. We need to look at the steps it would take to achieve our goals.” Rioux continued with an example that might sound familiar to all of us. “If I say I want financial freedom but I’m regularly wasting my money on something like a five-dollar cup of coffee every day, am I really committed to my goal?”
Rioux and Evans both believe daily, doable intentions lead to change, not all-or-nothing expectations programmed to a specific start date. “Rather than strive for huge transformations, one should set themselves up for success by attempting to make small interventions in their life,” Evans said. For example, she said, “Rather than attempting to lose 20 pounds, trying to exercise two times a week, is far more reasonable. You are changing your thought process by focusing on exercise. This intention changes your thinking and will help you develop a healthier lifestyle, which will likely result in weight loss. Make manageable, small, self-improvements, as opposed to sweeping, unspecific goals.”
So what happens psychologically when you don’t achieve something? According to Evans, “Unrealistic goals, set one up for demoralization and frustration.” Our once positive, let’s-go-conquer-the-world mentality is replaced by a negative, self-destructive inner dialogue. “Many people end up saying to themselves, I can’t even keep my own promises.”
This sense of disappointment further fuels mental, physical and spiritual health barriers like latent (or fully realized) insecurities, high cortisol levels, and a disconnect from our higher, more devotional self. This becomes a vicious-cycle of sorts. Here’s why: Chances are subjective self-disapproval led us to our resolution; so if we don’t follow through with it, we only magnify our feelings and perceptions of inadequacies.
When I conducted my own highly sophisticated, scientific experiment (I posted “Do you believe in New Year’s resolutions” on Facebook and prompted people to vote), I rang in some interesting information.
Though most people responded, “Yes,” nearly 67 percent admitted that believing is not always seeing and wrote in comments like “Making one? Or keeping one? Now that’s the ??”; and “I believe in it, but I don’t do it.” (Note: Only 31 percent actually said, “No,” “Nope” or, my favorite, “Not at all.”) Adding intrigue to this conversation, many people personally messaged me or spotted me in public (usually at the grocery store) and confessed that they were too embarrassed to post on Facebook that they felt compelled to make a New Year’s resolution, but daunted by a looming sense of failure. (One friend even joked across a check-out line, “I’m not a good loser, so why bother?”)
Both Evans and Rioux say they don’t make yearly declarations—and haven’t for some time. “I have only made one New Year’s resolution when I was 10 years old,” Evans said. “I promised myself to never litter. Fortunately I chose one that held meaning, as I was often confused and bewildered when people smoked and threw their cigarettes out their car windows.”
However, we still should try and better ourselves—daily, maybe even hourly. “Nothing succeeds like success,” said Evans, who like Rioux advises us to “be present.” When we make a New Year’s resolution, we are actually transporting ourselves through time and space into the future and foregoing all the benefits of experiential learning. Similarly, when we make judgments about ourselves and then vow to self-correct in T-minus X-amount of time, we are living in the past. But, when we set an intention, we live in the moment and therefore affect real change. The age-old, yoga-ism “Be here now” merges with Gandhi’s inspirational quote, “Be the change you want to see,” and there is this moment of self-realization that is both freeing and formative. We can improve, if only we channel our inner Bill Murray in What About Bob and take baby steps toward our MVP—most valuable promise.
Here’s how: First, identify your goal. Second, decide what steps you can take daily to achieve it. Third, reflect on and counter repetitive actions that Rioux says, “rob your energy or inhibit the achievement of your goal.” Then, be mindful.
“Be aware of your five senses,” Evans said. “What do you see? What do you feel? What do you smell?” These questions bring us back to the present moment and our current objective and allow us to be more affirmative by employing cognitive reframing, or the psychological technique of changing the way you look at something so a negative becomes a positive.
Rioux added, “As often as you can, whether in your car or with your kids or working, notice your breath. Your breath is always with you.” Rioux regularly reminds herself to pause, take inventory of her inhales and exhales, and then return to her mantra, “This moment matters.” This process then enables her to bring her intention back into focus and feel clear.
Evans also encourages people to set aside 15 minutes every day to be nonjudgmental (about themselves and others). And both believe in practicing gratitude, because it will help you be thankful for what you have rather than anxious about what you are trying to achieve. Lastly, trust that by routinely setting an intention—whether you achieve it or not—you will learn something valuable about yourself and you will be constantly advancing toward your ultimate self.
Becca Edwards is a certified birth doula, holistic health coach, yoga and Barre instructor, writer/blogger, and owner of b.e.WELL+b.e.CREATIVE (bewellbecreative.com).