Enacting new year resolutions: stop & look, understand & transform.

Do you find yourself stuck somewhere between making healthful New Year's intentions and implementing them? Mindfulness practice can help bridge this gap. When we are aware, we can change long-ingrained patterns without condemning or depriving ourselves.

Psychologists and philosophers agree: Will power is not a gift, bestowed more generously on some people than others. Willpower is a “normal human brain capacity that can be strengthened or tired out like a muscle,” (Understanding Your Willpower, Boston Globe).  According to Stanford health psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal, will power is a mind-body response.  We can improve our will power if we exercise, eat right, have adequate sleep and practice mindfulness.

Within each of us are wholesome and unwholesome “seeds”—that is, emotions planted in the deep soil of our consciousness. Examples of wholesome seeds are calmness, joy, resilience, compassion and mindfulness. It's entirely within our power to water our positive seeds so that they can grow, blossom and ultimately send more positive seeds into our consciousness. But we must be thoughtful and kind in our approach.

Reflecting upon our ingrained patterns and establishing realistic concrete resolutions are great ways to make positive changes. Once we’ve identified new intentions, it’s time to care for them.  Just as we water and weed a garden regularly with tenderness, we must devote loving care to cultivating a healthy consciousness.

By being mindful of the present moment, whatever that moment is, we allow change to happen naturally, without struggle, without the usual resistance and judgment that cause us to suffer more. (More in Savor, pg 68)

Many of us have a strong inner critic. We can be very harsh with ourselves when we don’t stick to resolutions, but this negative reinforcement is not effective. We end up disconnected from the present because we are ashamed, or because we fear facing our own judgment.

Care for yourself as you would a young child. Teach yourself to act differently with patience and generous love. Without judgment, notice the language and tone of your inner dialog. Would you talk to a toddler this way?

When a bad habit arises, greet it with a smile: “Hello familiar habit, I recognize you. I understand why I’ve carried you for so long, but you no longer serve me, so it’s time to let you go.”

Replacing unhealthy habits with healthy ones is a good practice with double-fold benefits. Every time you crave excess sweets, for instance, drink a tall glass of water infused with your favorite fruit. Notice how good the choice feels— and sincerely congratulate yourself for making this decision.

When we’re tired, discouraged or frustrated, we’re most likely to return to comforting, unhealthy habits. In these moments it’s best to call upon our ally, our own in and out breath, to help us gain awareness of our internal bodily state. Following our breath, we connect body and mind instantly—they become one.  We will feel nurtured and soothed, fully present to consider the situation at hand with clarity.  

A simple meditation can be helpful in these instances:

Breathing in, I calm my body.

Breathing out, I calm my body.

(Savor, pg 73)

There are many effective ways to re-align, regain awareness, and practice positive decision making. I'd love to hear-- how do you water your positive seeds?

Photo by The Yes Man, from the Creative Commons.


Thank you for this wonderful posting and a wonderful Blog! I learn so much from it and it helps me to remember to center myself, stop and take a breath, when life gets a little crazy.

Happy New Year Savor Community.