Habit is habit, and not to be flung out the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs one step at a time. — Mark Twain
According to a December 11, 2016 Static Brain poll, 45% of Americans “usually make New Year’s resolutions,” despite the fact that 24% “never succeed and fail on their resolution each year.”
While the tradition of making annual resolutions predates Christianity, it’s clear that the practice still hold great appeal. And why not? After all, the New Year promises 365 days of limitless potential for hopes and dreams to be fulfilled. Anything could happen, so why not do everything within our power to make each of those days fabulous?
The problem, I believe, is with the very definition of “resolution,” which, according to Oxford Dictionaries is “a firm decision [emphasis mine] to do or not to do something.” Making a decision is easy, and most of us are optimistic — or delusional — enough to believe that “this time it will be different.” This time, I will lose weight, go to the gym, eat healthy… Madison Avenue is banking on our optimism and naivete. Just look at all the New Year’s ads and commercials for weight loss programs (Hey, Oprah lost 40 pounds in 2016! All she had to do is buy Weight Watchers!), fitness centers and healthy foods. Our resolutions, according to the above-mentioned poll, start out strong, with 71% surviving the first two weeks. By the one month mark, that number declines to 64%. And past six months, a mere 46% of resolutions survive.
Maybe the problem isn’t with committing to revolutionary life changes, but how we commit to them.
I would like to suggest two techniques that worked so well for me in 2016 that I’m carrying them into 2017: intentions and vision boards.
An intention is “a thing intended; an aim or plan.” Ahhhhhhh… Doesn’t that sound gentler, more doable than a resolution? “I aim or plan to lose weight, get fit, eat healthy…in 2017.”
The authors of The Anxious Lawyer: An 8-Week Guide to a Joyful and Satisfying Law Practice Through Mindfulness and Meditation (Cho, Jeena and Gifford, Karen. Ankerwycke. 2016.) describe “setting an intention” this way:
Setting an intention is a little like setting your compass: it is always there in the background guiding you in a certain direction, even though you may not consciously be thinking about it at any given moment. There’s something a tiny bit magical about setting an intention—you may be surprised to find the world may seem to reflect your intention back at you, once you’ve taken the time to define it.
Many people, ourselves included, have had the experience of setting a clear intention only to stumble on a helpful book or have a very useful conversation about the object of that intention almost immediately afterwards. Or we may have a very satisfying experience, only to realize it almost exactly fulfills an intention we set for ourselves some time ago. An experience like that feels uncanny in the best possible way—like the universe is taking care of us and wants to support our best hopes for ourselves.
Buddhists often set an intention prior to a meditation session. For example, a meditator may set an intention to employ “right concentration,” one of the non-linear “steps” of the Eightfold Path, during that day’s meditation practice. Setting the intention will help them to be mindful that “right concentration” is a desirable skill to employ and cultivate. But, unlike a resolution, it’s not a “do or fail” proposition. The meditator can simply”set the compass” afresh for each meditation session.
If you want to set longer-term goals, you may consider creating a vision board, which is more like a map than a compass. Conventionally, people cut out magazine pictures and text that represent their dreams and goals and paste them on a piece of construction board or in the pages of a scrapbook. For 2016, I created my first vision board using PowerPoint, because I will always choose software over paper. My electronic vision board included slides with bullet points and pictures for each of the following topics: health, food/weight, exercise, reducing debt, writing my book and my spiritual practice.
I referred to my vision board many times throughout the year. Because of the format, I was able to open it on my computer or phone whenever I wanted to remind myself of my course. None of the goals on my slides were “have to do’s” like resolutions. Rather, they were directions that I had lovingly mapped out to support my growth and dreams. Some goals, like continuing weekly allergy shots, were easily obtainable. Others, such as completing the first draft of my book by the end of the year, were stretch goals.
As 2016 unfolded, I quickly realized that many of the goals on my vision board were manifesting. In April, I started exercising in earnest for the first time in my life. My spiritual practice was supported by unexpected people in unforeseen ways. And by mid-October, I finished writing the final version of my book Faith without Labels: a Guide to Eclectic Spirituality.
Needless to say, I wanted that positive life-changing momentum to continue, so I created a new PowerPoint vision board for 2017.
Did you make New Year’s resolutions? Have you tried setting intentions or creating a vision board? Do you have another technique that helps you manifest your dreams and goals? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. I look forward to hearing them and I’m sure that my readers do, too!