Some version of the following statistic has shown up in so many posts and articles over the past couple of weeks it has almost become a meme: of the 45% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, only 8% actually see them through to the end of the year. The most recent attribution I found for this statistic is a University of Scranton study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. If that sounds discouraging, take heart by noting that these researchers also found that those who bothered to make a resolution still fared twice as well as those who did not.
We’ve all seen the standard advice for sticking to your resolves – taking small steps, rewarding yourself, building your plan into your schedule, etc. All those are good. But if you are still having trouble, a recent article in Yoga Journal titled Make This Your Year by Elizabeth Marglin suggests a novel approach. Instead of thinking of your resolutions as something specifically for yourself, try thinking of them as “bigger-than-self” goals. Think of your goals as compassionate. For example, if your intention is to physically move more think about how this will benefit the other important players in your life. This will require you to be clear about your motivation. Why is this intention important to you? The article poses a series of questions to help you clarify your intentions including “What do I want to experience more of in my life and what can I do to create that?”.
Once you’ve figured out what you want to do and why you want to do it, the next step is to commit. Create a new habit. You’ve got plenty of experience creating habits, some good – some that make you unhappy. Take that experience and use it to your benefit. It may take a few weeks but the more you persevere, the more your brain will adapt. Research shows that we are capable of creating new neural pathways in our brains throughout our lives. Build your intention into your life. When you struggle with following your plan, just let the habit take over and keep you on course. Remember that your plan is not just for your own benefit but has a larger purpose. Then don’t think “should I or shouldn’t I?”. Just do it. You will never regret following through even if it turns out in the end that the path you chose needs to be adjusted. No matter what happens you will learn alot. Be open to that and enjoy the learning process.
The final step suggested in the article is to “Envision Success”. What does that look like? If more movement is your intention maybe success means being able to hike with your grandchildren. Or ride your horse comfortably and with confidence. Maybe there is a particular bicycle ride you’ve always wanted to try. Or a walk-a-thon that benefits a cause you support. Perhaps you want to volunteer for an organization that means something to you. Keep that vision right up front. But be kind to yourself. A compassionate intention requires self-compassion. Don’t let a day off derail your plans. Just take a breath and let it go. Don’t beat yourself up. Just put your schedule back together at the next opportunity.