At this time of year a lot of us are already thinking ahead to the new year and all those things we’d like to be doing differently.
We feel the beginning of a new year is a fresh start for us and that we’ll magically be better able to make changes and stick to them. Of course, it also lets us off the hook a bit with the Christmas indulgence: oh, never mind, I’ll start the diet in January!
But for most of us there’s also a long history of not managing to keep those New Year resolutions, with all the associated sense of failure and believing we’re weak-willed and ill-disciplined. And that kind of negative thinking isn’t a very good foundation on which to build real change.
So is there something better than resolutions?
Yes, there is! I’m suggesting that instead of making resolutions we set ourselves intentions, because there’s a difference in meaning that is key.
In the classic Vedic text ‘Upanishads’* it says:
“You are what your deepest desire is. As your desire is, so is your intention. As your intention is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.”
This sense of setting an intention that is deeply attached to your innermost desires, values and purpose means you’re choosing to do more than just change old patterns of behaviour and break bad habits.
It helps to accentuate the positive
One of the big differences for me about intentions is that they’re expressed in a positive way and that you don’t become too attached to the outcome. I think you have to trust yourself here (and whatever higher power, if any, you believe in) to bring the things you desire in to your life.
If you believe everything will work out because you feel positive about it then you can stop trying so hard. You’d be amazed how this can work!
So how can we make this the Year of Long-lasting Change?
Here are four really powerful actions you can take now – or at any other time of the year – to help you set those over-arching intentions and begin to establish new habits.
1 Be clear on why you want to change. When it comes to those pesky habits, whether it’s breaking old ones or establishing new ones, you need to be absolutely clear on the WHY. Do you really need to lose weight or do you need to learn to love your body more?
Thinking of giving up drinking? Maybe you need to find other ways to deal with difficult emotions rather than dumbing them down with alcohol.
Do you see what I mean? Without a clear ‘why’ you may be setting yourself up to fail and keeping yourself trapped in a negative cycle.
2 Set your intention for the coming year. Take some time to sit quietly and think about what you want the New Year to look like – almost like choosing a theme – will it be calmer, more productive, more loving?
Listen to your heart and your body to get a sense of what this would actually feel like and how it would look.
See yourself being the person you want to become, doing the things you want to be doing. If it helps to put it down on paper then you could write it out or even draw it – if you don’t think you can draw it then you could make yourself a collage of pictures you find that represent what you want.
And now let it go. Yes, that’s right – let go and trust that everything will work out as it should.
3 Understand that creating new habits is hard. If you want to start exercising or meditating regularly, then you’re basically trying to establish a new habit and if you want to give up smoking then you’re trying to stop an old habit. Therefore it’s important to understand how habits are made and broken so that we can be more effective from the start.
In his book “The Power of Habit”** Charles Duhigg establishes a framework that can be applied to habits, which shows how the cycle of behaviour works. He also acknowledges that different habits need different approaches and that it actually takes at least two months of repetition to begin to make an action into a habit. So don’t be hard on yourself if you seem to be struggling – the temptation will be to give up – and recognise how much progress you’ve made.
A really useful tip is to attach a new habit you want to an existing good habit: so, if you clean your teeth first thing in the morning, do your new yoga routine straight afterwards – that way cleaning your teeth becomes the cue to do yoga.
4 Establish a gratitude practice. This is something I’ve done for the last three years and it’s an amazing way of keeping all that positivity we feel at the start of a new year alive. There are lots of different kinds of practices you can try: some people keep a Gratitude Journal and write down the things they’re grateful for and why.
I really like using what I call my Jam Jar of Joy: I write on slips of paper and then fold them up and put them into a fancy big jar that I used to use for bottling jam. On New Year’s Eve I take out all the folded bits of paper and read them, which reminds me of what a fabulous year I’ve had and how much I have to feel grateful for.