Want to shed extra pounds? Get more organized? Make a career change? Start practicing Yoga? Overcome an addiction once and for all? January first is not the time to commit to doing so. Forbes magazine has been quoted as stating that typically just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s Resolutions (Diamond, 2013). It is not to say that you cannot become one of those 8% but as I like to tell my clients, the most serious of resolutions or goals, have a start date of now.
Most of the time, if we are being really honest with ourselves we can admit that we make New Year’s Resolutions in order to give ourselves a pass for indulging in our vices guilt free until January first. Who of us hasn’t gorged on extra sweets or forgone cleaning our homes a few extra weeks leading up to the New Year all the while telling ourselves that the moment the calendar changes so will our lifestyles for the better. Not only is this unrealistic but this kind of thinking can set us up for disappointment and self-sabotage. Just like a car cannot go from eighty miles per hour to zero without taking some time to downshift, neither can we as humans go from daily unhealthy habits to Zen Buddhist practices over night. Change takes time; and lasting change takes patience and practice.
Ramping up unhealthy lifestyle practices such as eating more sweets, drinking more alcohol, or behaving in careless ways can further train our brains to repeat that unhealthy behavior and make it more difficult to change our neural pathways once we become ready to try to make that change. If you are hoping to drink less alcohol after the New Year but are currently grabbing a beer every time you open the refrigerator door during the weeks leading up to January first, guess what is going to happen when that refrigerator door is opened on New Year’s Day? You are going to grab that beer, and if not on the first then certainly by January tenth, I mean after all, this is something you have programmed yourself to become comfortable with! Our brains are not as quick to adapt to our changing will, it takes practice; it takes reprogramming. Just like someone cannot pick up a guitar and learn how to play “Stairway to Heaven” instantly, our brains cannot learn new behaviors instantly even if they seem like easy ones, backed with fool-proof logic. Our brains want to work as efficiently as possible in order to guarantee the greatest chance of survival, so we can reserve any extra needed energy for flight or fight responses. This means, that our brain prefers to continue executing comfortable, routine behaviors that do not require a lot of problem solving whether they are ultimately good for us or not. By increasing the volume of an unhealthy behavior, we are further engraining the training of our brain to prefer that routine, so quit it! If there is a change you want to make, do not wait or make it more difficult for yourself, start the change now.
A more practical and possibly more important ritual to do as the New Year approaches is to take time to reflect on your last year in time. Review photo albums, journal entries, cards/gifts received, new friendships made, relationships lost, deaths, births, milestones reached, and all of the major changes that have occurred. After doing so, ask yourself the following: (write it out, meditate on it, or think about it during your next “me time”)
How has the last year changed me?
What has added to my growth in the past year?
What has kept me from growing this past year?
What would I have changed about the last year if I could?
What am I most grateful for from this past year?
What can I let go of from this past year that can help me move forward in this next year?
Life moves fast, taking the time you would have used coming up with your New Year’s Resolution to review your life in 2015 will encourage positive change and growth. Reviewing your last twelve months may generate more insight into your current position in life, help you gain a greater perspective, and possibly lead you to obtain closure on things or people that have been preventing you from moving forward.
Activity: (For those who benefit from doing tangible activities) Find an unused candle and write down your responses to the questions above on a piece of paper. Allow the candle to burn all day on New Year’s Day with your answers next to it until it is completely gone. Once the candle has burned out conclude that your period of reflection has passed and understand that you are now ready to welcome the near year with a clear mind. Save some of the wax with the paper as a keepsake if desired.