Why you should break your New Year's resolution

Posted by on Jan 7, 2010 in Philosophy | 2 comments

At this time of year, people are flush with the excitement of a new year.  Anything is possible and we want to start off on the right foot.  So we resolve to practice more yoga, cut out sugar, quit complaining, etc…  This is great and I highly recommend taking advantage of this energy and momentum to set some resolutions of your own if you haven’t already.

Unfortunately, most resolutions aren’t kept through the year.  I don’t know exactly how many, but a quick google search provides a range of 80-97% of resolutions aren’t kept until the next year.  Bummer, right?  Maybe not.

Most resolutions address a habit that we view as negative.  Habits are our default.  They are what we do when we are not paying attention.  They are the easy way.  Changing what is easy is…hard.

Of course not all habits are negative.  In fact, the whole idea of a resolution is to replace the habits that aren’t serving us (maybe coffee?) with one that does (water!).  When we cultivate positive habits, we are working hard in the present so that we don’t have to in the future.  When our new habit becomes second nature we are able to ride out the times when we slip out of mindfulness and rely on our positive habits to keep us afloat.

However, before that can happen there is work to be done.  To keep a resolution requires both awareness and discipline.  First of all we have to stay vigilantly aware of ourselves, or we will slip back into our old habits without even noticing.  Second, once we notice, we have to actually care enough to resist and replace the old behavior with the new.

In order to do this much work, we have to care deeply and passionately about the change we are trying to create.  That is why I recommend linking the habit you want to change with a deep personal goal.  For example, my resolutions this year are to drink more water and eat less sugar.  This is connected to my deep desire to live in full vibrant health into old age.

The path to our lifelong goals are just that:  lifelong.

To expect ourselves to make a change like this one day, and then just stick to it for the rest of our lives is simply unrealistic.  I know a few people with that much discipline, but not many.  I’m definitely not one of them.  Most of us go in phases of being more and less aware, more and less disciplined.

So rather than expecting perfection, it is actually more effective to break our resolution down into tiny baby steps.  In fact, I’m going to go drink a glass of water right now.  One baby step accomplished.  One step on my life path in the direction I am choosing to go.

Now when the inevitable happens and I veer off to the side, it’s no big deal.  Just one moment out of a lifetime of moments.  In the next moment, I have the choice to step right back on.  No guilt about “broken resolutions”, no story about how I’m just not disciplined enough and shouldn’t even try.

Even better, break your resolutions on purpose.  As a spiritual practice.  Yup.  I said that.  Break your resolutions as a spiritual practice.  Engage in your unconscious habits– but do it consciously.

True story:
Yesterday, my daughter was asking for some chocolate after school.  At first I wanted to resist, to tell her no, that it was just a habit to want to eat sugar.  Instead I said yes, but let’s play a game.  Let’s take tiny, tiny, bites and really savor each one.  Hedonist that she is, she readily agreed.  We took tiny, tiny bites, exclaiming after each one how incredibly delicious it was.  We pressed the chocolate against different parts of our tongues and compared the taste.  We let each bite melt in our mouth rather than chewing.

She could not finish her 1.5 square inch piece of chocolate.  I finished mine, but barely.  By the last few bites, the chocolate tasted overly sweet and was no longer appealing.  Fully conscious of our experience in the moment, we were able to tap into the wisdom of our bodies.

I propose that anything done with full awareness and enjoyment, is not a habit.  If we are fully present in the moment, the right path for us becomes clear and effortless.  Doing things that are counter productive to our deepest lifelong goals will just feel wrong.

Our yoga practice is a reminder for us to check in with our goals and intentions on a daily basis.  To practice awareness on our mat, so that we may also practice off our mat.

So go ahead and break your new year’s resolution.  Just make sure you enjoy every moment.

2 Comments

  1. I love this, Mado. My dharma talk in my classes this week has also been about resolutions. About how in order for us not to break them two days out of the gate, they need to start from solid grounding…they need to start where we are. You have so eloquently explored that in this post. Thank you for sharing your chocolate story. :) I’ll remember that!

  2. Thanks Janet! I’ve been to a lot of classes with this theme this week… Might as well go with where the energy is!

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