I don’t know about you, but I know that I have made many New Year’s resolutions over the years. For myself though, both personally and as the professional observer I am as a spiritual director, there’s a standard hitch that generally affects all New Year’s resolutions: we are lucky if our excellent intentions last out the month of January! Why is this and how can we optimize our success at achieving the goals we set?
Generally, we all know the reasoning of setting a goal and resolving to attain it. Wanting to evolve and grow appears to be a common desire for all of us. Setting a goal at the New Year is optimal on many levels, coming from an energetic perspective. Because our culture supports January 1st as the beginning of a new year, we have the foundational energetic support of that cultural belief. When a society has a collective belief, it provides an actual archetypal scaffold to assist the individual in their comparative intention.
Another supportive factor for setting goals at this time is that we are now fully in the season of winter. From a spiritual perspective, winter is the time of gestation. This is the time of year when nature is curled in on itself; the trees and plants have taken their energy to their core and are working at supporting their inner strengths; the animal kingdom uses this time to grow the next generation of their species. So this is the natural time for us to take our ideas, hopes and dreams and nurture them in our core. When we do this, one of the results can be resolutions that manifest in authentic action which can support the intention of our goal.
Winter is also the natural time for reflection. When I sit inside on a snowy day, I notice how quiet it is as a result of the snow cover. I can use that reality as a support of my own inner quiet to investigate my internal landscape. I can use this environment to explore my true wants and desires and from that I can come up with goals that I can intend to be resolved to accomplish. If you have allowed yourself to have fully embraced the deep reflective quality of the Winter’s Solstice (see last month’s essay) one of the consequences can be a clarity of where you want to go from here; what do you want to achieve and even how to achieve what you intend.
So why, with all this natural support, is it so common for our enthusiastic resolve to last for such a short period of time? The most powerful explanation I consistently come up with is that a lot of our resolutions stem from what we think we should do. We listen to the voices outside of our selves which tell us that if we were good people we would do all sorts of things and if we just did those things, we would somehow become better…..but better than what? It is very common for these ‘should-ing’ voices to become internalized and show up as our powerful inner critic voices and those voices can easily take over and think that they are running the show of our internal landscape. The problem with all this ‘should-ing’ is that its message is a punitive message that tells us that we are inherently wrong or flawed in some way and that flies in the face of our understanding of the core truth that we are precious, or as a dear teacher of mine Dr. Norm Shealy says, “God doesn’t make junk”. The incongruity of knowing this truth and treating it with a punitive voice is what sets us up for failure time and time again. And, of course, that judgment of failure is grabbed enthusiastically by the critical aspects of ourselves, both internally and externally, and the belief we are flawed or ‘less than’ is perpetuated.
Another reason that explains why we consistently lose steam and, therefore, find our well intentioned resolutions sputtering to nothing is that we have a tendency to set goals with expectations that are unrealistic, which makes that handy dandy archetype the Saboteur respond in a gleeful way and the result is a failed goal; sometimes before we even start! The way we set up unrealistic expectations from a spiritual anatomy perspective is that the actual setting of the goal takes place anatomically in the 6th chakra, which has little to do with the literal and more to do with the great idea. By the time the idea settles into the more literally ‘minded’ 3rd, 2nd and 1st chakras, we realize that we actually have to change our lifestyle to accommodate the goal. If we don’t address the obstacles in these energetic centers’ belief sets our resolve is thrown out on its proverbial ear. (For a deeper understanding of your energetic anatomy take my Energetic Anatomy class, work with me individually or read Caroline Myss’ book Anatomy of the Spirit,)
What if your goal is to stop smoking? (I am picking a dooser of an example here as smoking is considered to be as physically addictive as heroin, but why don’t we look at a tough one?) The idea of quitting smoking is a good one; I can’t think of a better one, actually. As the idea starts to settle into reality, though, all sorts of things get in the way. The physical addiction is a big one. That your intimate partner smokes may be another. In the unseen world you may be smoking because it provides a smoke screen to help shield you from intense energies in your daily life. Smoking may serve as a great excuse to take a break from working on a regular basis and you know that you must have an excuse to take a break. What about the service that smoking provides for you to keep food from going in your mouth? It is a great tool for maintaining weight! See how this simple goal idea quickly turns into a reality of a lot of work?
So what can you do to help your New Year’s resolutions actually work? One very helpful tool is to become conscious of the collective aspect of support. If you embrace the idea of the collective unconsciou’s belief that the 1st of January is a great time to set a resolution then you can consciously use that belief to support you in your New Year’s endeavor. The same happens when you embrace the idea of nature’s organic support of the reflective and gestational characteristics of the season of winter. Relaxing into the collective and natural inherent supportive energies can make the work of your resolution that much easier; you are going with the flow.
Another helpful tool is to really examine your resolutions and only take on the ones you want to do. Give yourself a treat and take the time to inquire within yourself if you want this goal or are you doing this because you, or others, are telling you that you should do this. If you have trouble distinguishing the difference for yourself here, you might want to consider changing your resolution to something like: “I resolve to discover what I want this year”. I actually work a lot with people on just this question, so consider gifting yourself a bit of time with a Spiritual Director, that’s what we are here for!
One of the most important points about successful resolution setting is to allow your goals to be realistic. If we take the example above of the goal to quit smoking and break it down into realistic resolutions it may turn into something like: “For the month of January, I am going to take a break once a day from my task at hand without a cigarette”. Or…”I am going to join Weight Watchers for three months so I can become very aware of my eating habits”. Or…”I will explore the options of smoking cessation help aids and decide on one by the end of the 1st week of January”. Or…”I will reflect on and list what holds me back from easily quitting smoking and pick one of those obstacles a month to release before I actually stop smoking”.
Any goal that you have that is life enhancing will require you to change your life in some way that will provide you with an opportunity to experience how much soul stamina you have to succeed in enhancing yourself. It is important to cultivate an attitude of compassion for yourself and that could manifest in your decision to gently work on building your soul stamina before taking on a goal that requires a level of endurance you don’t have yet. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you should do this all by yourself. Allow yourself the gentle possibility of asking for help. Just that in itself could be the best resolution you could make this year!