Every year, an estimated 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but one study suggests that only 12 percent actually accomplish their goals. Why do so many of us start each new year with resolutions, only to drop them once the hope of a fresh start diminishes?
The cultural message about our unsuccessful attempts to stick to our resolutions is that we’re lazy, distracted, or incompetent. But the standard resolutions model we’re given actually set us up to “fail” and thus break trust with ourselves, so that we’re left in doubt of our own ability to act from a place of empowered intentionality. When we fail to achieve our goals with that model, we’re told we lack willpower, and to try again. And again, and again, until we get tired and give up. We may get so discouraged and angry that we resolve never to make another “stupid resolution” again. But without setting and acting on our own intentions—whatever the time of year—how can we ever hope to be empowered, fulfilled, and truly free?
So rather than using the rickety cultural model of intention setting or neglecting to set any intentions at all, here’s how you can make empowered resolutions that actually nourish you. Let’s take, for example, the most statistically common resolution—“lose weight”—and go through five steps that can support you in making more joyful, nourishing resolutions that inspire you to tend to your needs throughout the coming year. (We’ll save the complicated discussion of why weight loss is the most common resolution for another time. For now, let’s assume the best—that the needs underlying the resolution “lose weight” are overall health, ease of movement, strength and flexibility, longevity, stress release, and physical pleasure and joy.)
1) Make clear, actionable requests of yourself. Oftentimes, our resolutions are too vague or results-oriented instead of action-oriented. “Lose weight” is a vague outcome detached from any actions that might actually lead to a shift in your experience of your body. Rather than falling into this common set-up and then feeling bad about yourself when your resolutions don’t magically come true, consider naming specific actions you’d genuinely enjoy taking that support your desired outcome. A clearer request around your body might look like: I’d like to move or exercise my body for at least thirty minutes a day. Already, this would be a more positive, achievable new year’s resolution.
2) Set intentions from a place of warmth, not harshness. If you set the intention to lose weight because our negative cultural messages have left you hating your current body and believing losing weight is the only path to love and acceptance from yourself and others, every action you take toward this resolution will be imbued with harshness, self-recrimination, and judgment. Any wonder that you’ll want to avoid the whole painful subject, and just continue to neglect your body’s well-being? As much as you can, add warmth to your resolutions. For example, we might revise the resolution above to be: I’d like to nurture my body with movement or exercise for at least thirty minutes a day. Notice how the quality of the intention—in this case, the intention of the movement being nurturing—is warming up.
3) Base resolutions on an internal “yes,” not on a dominating “should.” Setting conflicted intentions for yourself and then trying to force yourself into compliance is our culture’s common advice around resolutions (“will power” is really just an interchangeable phrase for self-domination), but strong-arming yourself isn’t the most effective nor most pleasurable way to actualize your goals. Rather than being guided by internal or external “shoulds,” which almost always result in resistance, chose an intention you actually feel a clear “yes” to in your body. For instance, when reading the hypothetical resolution above, imagine you felt a tightening in your body when you got to the words “at least,” and that you revised it to something like: I’d like to nurture my body with movement or exercise for around thirty minutes a day. Make sure you revise any words that you don’t have internal harmony around, until you can read the whole resolution and feel clear, open, spacious, and energized in your body. That’s what a clear “yes” feels like, and you’ll feel it even if your resolution seems challenging, so long as it’s a challenge you actually want to take on.
4) Empower your intentions with ongoing, moment-to-moment choice. Our culture tells us that force is more effective than free choice, but the moment you take choice out of your resolution is the moment you either doom the resolution to fail or condemn yourself to steely misery, and neither is a very fun way to live your life. Instead, make sure you give yourself choice around when and how you’ll act on your resolutions. For instance, continuing to revise our example from above, Every day that I’m willing to do so, I’d like to nurture my body with movement or exercise for around thirty minutes a day. Notice how much more alive, nurturing, and choiceful this resolution is than the initial “lose weight”? Wouldn’t it be more inspiring to hold and act on this intention throughout the year?
5) Share your resolutions for shared holding. Studies have shown that some people have greater success keeping their resolutions when they have support in holding those intentions, whether through a friend or professional supporter. Consider having a resolutions exchange with someone you love and trust, or allowing me to support you in the new year, so your efforts can fueled with encouragement, appreciation, and acknowledgement.
I’m wishing you all warm self-connection, nourishing intimacy with others, abiding overall health, and empowered lives rich with meaning, purpose, and contribution—in 2014 and beyond.
With love and empathy,