One month from today marks the beginning of the infamous New Years’ resolutions – a day of the calendar when we commit to start anew with positive behaviors. If you’re like most of us, you set your goal with resolve, genuine determination and start out strong. But, as the weeks progress, you find that you start to putter out – the excitement wanes, the positive effects are not big enough to motivate you , and you find that you don’t really have the time or energy. Eventually, the resolutions get buried in your busyness and all but disappear. In a recent British study of 750 adults, they found that the average length of time before resolutions are broken is 24 days. Aargh! Not even a month.
If I had to pick one resolution, it would be to meditate daily. I’m a testament to its gifts. My meditation practice has brought greater self-awareness, forgiveness of others, perspective, compassion, less “freak outs,” more patience and even, according to my husband, smoother skin. Yet, despite these undeniable benefits, I still resist meditating on a regular basis. I postpone, skip, don’t prioritize it, make excuses, etc. I have no problem exercising most days of the week but meditation is a different story. And I know I’m not alone. Most of us struggle with maintaining positive behaviors we know are absolutely good for us – eating healthier, exercising more, quitting a bad habit, managing stress, leaving a dead end job or ending a bad relationship.
So what can help us follow through with our resolutions? How can we make it past the 24 day mark into months and years? For me, once my goal is clear, it boils down to three things: guidance, support, and accountability.
Guidance brings tools, ideas, and practices. It can come from a teacher, a class, an educational book, a workshop, a therapist or a coach. We need tools to help us build the vision for ourselves. Rather than reinventing the wheel or, worse yet, just guessing, find a resource or person who has expertise in the area. A nutritionist or good book can guide you to healthier eating, a gym class or trainer can teach you proper form and specific exercises, a therapist can help you explore past hurts, etc. My Zen teachers are central to the evolution, maintenance and growth of my meditation practice.
Support keeps us propped up and energized. We need others to encourage us when our motivation and desire inevitably wane, and we need to encourage others in the same way. This collective energy that we give and receive brings great benefit and confidence. And, as we receive and give support, we are inspired by watching our friends in their own process. Recall how good it feels to get that pat on the back, compassionate smile, or exited greeting when you show up to something that you’d rather skip.
Accountability helps us stay committed to our process. When I commit to do something, I’m going to do it, if nothing else but to avoid the guilt of not doing it. Sure, a part of me says that I should be adult enough and have the willpower on my own, but that’s the very part that gets weak – the vain and arrogant part. It really doesn’t matter if I’m meditating to avoid guilt or to dutifully report to my teachers or embracing group – I’m doing it and I’m reaping the benefit along the way. This may not work for everyone, but there is a large body of research supporting accountability as a factor that helps sustain behavior.
If my meditation practice depended entirely on my willpower, I would have petered out long ago. And over the past 12 years of practice there have been many, many times that I’ve wanted to throw in the towel. But, I am part of a dedicated community, with two incredible teachers. We support one another with weekly meditation evenings and bimonthly retreats. I try my best to keep Wednesday nights free of other commitments. And having regular retreats firmly on my calendar, whether I feel like going or not, keeps me dedicated. In fact, I am the volunteer coordinator of two retreats per year, which guarantees that I go.
So, absolutely go for your New Year’s Resolutions. But do it wisely with guidance, support, and accountability. Commit now to doing something in January that will help you stay the course. Join others with the same goal. Find a teacher or guide. Take an Embracing the Middle Series for greater support and accountability or attend an intensive, deep-dive workshop to help uncover limiting beliefs and behaviors that unconsciously sabotage you. And apply some meditative mindfulness tools to help you along the way.
Wishing you all a wonderful, holiday season, and a happy, healthy, mindful New Year!