Committing to Change

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.

Get Happy – Join a Group!

Recently, I’ve been following a series called “100 Days of Lovingkindness” from Wildmind’s Meditation Newsletter .  Every day for the duration of the series an e-mail is sent out with a description of ideas and practices that the reader can try and, hopefully, incorporate into their lives.  Here is an excerpt from Day 66 – Appreciation is Contagious:

When. . .you become happier, . . . your friends become measurably happier because you’re happy. (This has been scientifically verified).

And your friends’ friends become measurably happier.

And your friends’ friends’ friends become measurably happier.

Happiness spreads outward into the world through your social network like a virus — although a rather beneficial one.

This may all seem rather incredible, but . . .the evidence for this [from a British Medical Journal article wonderfully titled “Dynamic Spread of Happiness”] . . . is based on a huge study carried out by Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego.

Professor of Medical Genetics James H. Fowler and social scientist Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, have been studying social networks for years, using data from the ongoing Framingham Heart Study, which has been tracking the health, behaviors, and attitudes of tens of thousands of people since 1948.

The study measures many aspects of health, including happiness. Participants have been asked how likely they are to agree with questions like “I feel hopeful about the future” and “I feel happy.” And the study also tracks social networks, allowing the researchers to see how attitudes and behaviors spread.

Fowler and Christakis have found that if you have overweight friends, you’re more likely to be overweight yourself. If you have friends who don’t smoke, you’ll find it easier to give up smoking. If your friends are unhappy, you’re more likely to be unhappy yourself. And, crucially, if you’re happy your friends are more likely to be happy, and if your friends are happy you’re more likely to be happy.

In fact, if you’re happy you increase the chances of an immediate social contact becoming happy by 15%. And this effect ripples out into your friend’s friend’s relationships.

So it pays to surround yourself with healthy, happy people.  One way you can do that is by coming to a class!  (Yup – you knew I’d find a way to bring you back to that.)  Classes are full of people striving to improve their health and general outlook on life.  Be a part of that effort!  It’s contagious!  According to this study, just by showing up and being part of the group you have at least a 15% chance of becoming happier and healthier yourself.  And if your own well-being is not enough incentive, your association with healthy people may enable you to spread that health to everyone around you.  The more of us who participate, the more this spreads.  Just think what we can all accomplish!

The study also implies that if you’re not feeling particularly happy or healthy, you’re likely to pass those feelings on as well. So maybe these ideas will help you to just try rubbing elbows with a group that’s trying to improve their lives.  It can’t hurt and it just might help you feel better.  You don’t have to perform in any prescribed or specified way.  Just be there and be a part of the group.  If you keep it up, pretty soon all those you associate with might start feeling better, too.  What a concept!

Hope to see you all in a class soon!