How to Make a Mindful Resolution

Hard-knuckling it through our New Year’s goals can strain even the best intentions. Here’s a mindful strategy for less stress and more success in keeping your resolutions.

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“Making a resolution” hassuch a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? It feels powerful to think we can simply resolve to rid ourselves of some bad habit, irritating character flaw, or maybe even a pound or two, and—poof!—it’s done. “I hereby give up designating Oreos and Snickers as a food group”—just saying the words can have a “job accomplished” quality. And it’s true: Awareness of where we are stuck in a habit or a blind spot is the first step to meaningful change.

But then what? For some, the quagmire drags us down as we find that resolving to do anything takes guts, energy, and determination. It takes grit. Even worse, it may require going gently or slowing things down. And it takes courage to let yourself see how you resist or run from things that make you uncomfortable. True resolve means feeling restless and uneasy and bringing effort and energy anyway.

Let’s back up for a moment: What is a resolution? Ultimately, it’s how we try to give ourselves a helping hand, by either undertaking or refraining from undertaking a particular action. For instance, if being impulsive gets you into trouble, you might resolve to take a breath before you begin screaming at a stranger, your coworkers, or your kids. You might resolve to nurture your physical well-being and take the stairs twice a week.

But for many of us, resolutions lose their glow once New Year’s dewy newness fades. So how can we notice and counter our tendency to crawl back into our hidey-holes and habits?

Bit by bit you may notice that approaching your resolutions with kindness and gentleness makes the situation a little less tense. At times, it’s likely your resolve will fall apart—but you don’t have to arm wrestle with every setback. You can simply explore how and why your resolve dissolved.

It takes courage to see how you resist what makes you uncomfortable. True resolve means feeling restless and uneasy and bringing effort and energy anyway.

You are not embarking on a military operation to search and destroy; employing self-compassion and tenderness is something much more challenging and counterintuitive. It may require noticing when trying harder is less effective than trying, well, softer. This year, resolve to keep your view alive and fresh, moment by moment.

How To Make A Resolution

1. Start with awareness. Try visualizing your resolution as a movie. How does it look? Is committing and following through on your intention bringing you strength, energy, and focus? Picture yourself enjoying the benefits of your efforts. Are you feeling fabulous on the beach? Powerful and present at work? Mellow with friends and family? Imagining what’s possible could help you stay motivated when resolve melts like a summer snowman.

2 Stay realistic. Don’t try to stuff the whole turkey in your mouth. Start by resolving to do something that you could realistically accomplish, and take pleasure in that accomplishment! “I will give my full attention to at least three conversations today.” “I will take a moment to enjoy the colors and aromas of my food.” “I will send myself warm appreciation before I go to sleep.”

3 Make a plan. If you need time to accomplish your new resolution, schedule it! Whether you want to meditate regularly, go to the gym, or be better prepared for a meeting, you will need time and a plan of action. It’s not magic; it’s staying present to the ordinary things that might be required to achieve your goals.

4 Prevent a relapse. Prepare to have your resolution challenged from inside and out. If you live in a hurricane zone, preparing a storm kit is the common wisdom. Your Resolution Relapse Prevention Kit includes noticing what’s up with you when you abandon your resolution. Which thoughts are you listening to? Which emotions are rising up? How is your body responding to all of this? You might want to share your resolutions with someone from your online or live support network. Remember, we all need help to stay energized. It’s good to notice when generalized terror, resistance, and wanting to run from the unknown makes you long for your days as a sofa-spud.

This article appeared in the February 2018 issue of Mindful magazine.