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Rethinking our New Year’s resolutions

calendarMany of us start the year with great intentions to establish healthy new habits, only to find ourselves losing steam before too long. Sunada writes about her realization that reframing our goals can help us stay on track and raise our chances of getting to where we want to be.

It’s a new year, and a time when many of us think about fresh starts – like exercising more, meditating regularly, or getting organized. But as we know all too well, just wanting something doesn’t make it so. I’m sure we’ve all experienced times when we lose steam and get bogged down. How do we get around this?

 I’m not saying it’s bad to have doubtful thoughts… But it’s when we accept these thoughts as truth that we get into trouble.  

One of the Buddha’s basic messages is that we create our own worlds with our thoughts and actions. And by “thoughts,” he wasn’t just talking about our intentional, conscious ones. Those pesky unintended and subconscious ones are just as much a part of the picture. And it’s when we leave them unacknowledged that they can really get us into trouble.

Let’s look at a few examples. When I ask people why they want to meditate more, the answer I typically get is something like, “I want to calm my busy mind.” What we’re subconsciously saying here is, “I have a busy mind.” Stop for a moment and say that sentence to yourself. How does it make you feel? Does it give you positive energy and motivation to change? I doubt it. Instead, it just reinforces that you have a busy mind. Focusing on the problem directs more of our energies toward thing we don’t want. By definition, anything we put our attention to is what fills our minds –and perpetuates in our view of the world.

Other thoughts I often hear express self-doubt and self-deprecation. “My mind is too busy to be able to meditate right.” Or “I don’t know if I can, but if I MAKE myself do it maybe it’ll work this time.” I’m not saying it’s bad to have doubtful thoughts. We all have insecurities, and they will come up in one form or another for all of us. We’re only human! But it’s when we accept these thoughts as truth that we get into trouble. How much are we buying into the idea that this is the way things are? The more we are, the more we’re feeding ourselves negative energy that can only pull us backward.

 We may THINK we’ve made a resolve to change. But there’s another side of us thinking subtle … thoughts that sabotage us before we even begin.  

A third source of backward pull is a lack of focus, discipline, or prioritization. “I tried to go to the gym this week but other things got in the way.” “My boss made me stay late so I couldn’t do it.” It’s easy to blame other people or causes for preventing us from doing what we intended. But really, I’m the only one who can choose what I do. My boss didn’t make me stay late. It’s me that chose to do it to comply with his request. Or maybe I wasn’t focused enough to get things done sooner. Whatever we do, we need to take responsibility for our own choices. Otherwise, we perpetuate a mindset of helplessness and being a victim.

I’m sure there are other kinds of thoughts that pull us in the wrong direction, but I think you get the idea. These are the kind of subconscious thoughts that we’re allowing to shape our future – one in which we’re at odds with ourselves! We may THINK we’ve made a resolve to change. But there’s another side of us thinking subtle (or maybe not-so-subtle!) thoughts that sabotage us before we even begin. No wonder we get stuck.

 Rather than looking at the problem on its own level, how about if we reframe it into a bigger picture of what we aspire toward? So if you want to exercise more, ask yourself WHY.  

So what do we do? We can’t just banish negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. And they’re really hard to just “let go,” as we’re taught to do in meditation classes.

There is another way. According to the laws of physics, the only way we can move something forward is by applying more energy in that direction than what’s pulling it the other way. So then, how can we increase the energy behind our positive motivations so that they’re greater than our negative ones?

Rather than looking at the problem on its own level, how about if we reframe it into a bigger picture of what we aspire toward? So if you want to exercise more, ask yourself WHY. What is your bigger purpose behind becoming more fit? One woman I know realized that the reason she wants to be in better shape is so she can run around with her grandchildren. To her, family is really important – something she values deeply for its own sake. It’s part of her picture of herself at her best. So when she thinks about going to the gym, she thinks of how much she loves her grandchildren’s delightful laughter, and off she goes.

 We can tell we’re acting with a pure mind when we’re motivated by genuine feelings of kindness and generosity, and a wise understanding of our responsibility toward both ourselves and our world.  

The Buddha gave us some clues about the kind of thoughts that help move us forward. He said, “If one speaks or acts with a pure mind, happiness follows like a shadow that never departs.” What is a “pure mind”? It’s the part of us that reveals our essential goodness. We can tell we’re acting with a pure mind when we’re motivated by genuine feelings of kindness and generosity, and a wise understanding of our responsibility toward both ourselves and our world. When we act from that place, we flow more naturally and easily. And happiness flows more easily to us.

It turns out that I want to exercise and meditate more this year, too. But those things aren’t on my list of resolutions. My intention is to continue building a well-integrated life that allows me to find more of that innate goodness within myself and others, and to share it all around. This picture includes my personal Buddhist practice, life coaching, meditation teaching, and singing. All of these things build upon my natural strengths: a love of learning and growing, an ability to connect deeply with people, and an appreciation of the aesthetic and spiritual beauty in the world. By doing what I love, I tap into an inner wellspring of motivation. Going to the gym or getting on the meditation mat is less about talking myself into it, and more about pursuing things I want because they point me toward who I am at my best.

So if you’ve got some resolutions on your list, I would urge you to spend some time reflecting on what your higher aspirations might be. And be as specific as can about what it might look like to live that way. Take your time, and do it thoughtfully. It can take months to get clarity on what you really want. And know that this is an ongoing project. As we evolve and reach new places, our ideas change too. That’s all part of the process. But most important of all, enjoy the ride. In the end, that’s really how we find joy and gratification in our lives.


Sunada
Sunada not only teaches the online meditation courses at Wildmind, she runs her own business, Mindful Purpose Life Coaching, through which she coaches people toward finding their innate goodness and living in accordance with it.

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Comment from Rosana
Time: December 30, 2008, 11:36 am

Hi Sunada

Thanks for your article. Your suggestion that we should rethink our resolutions is so important. I´ve been trying to come up with my list for the last three months and I´m still not satisfied, I feel these decisions and changes make sense and I want them to be part of my life but there is something missing, and when I think about a ‘bigger picture’ as you wrote, I´m aware of some new things I want for my life, but they are still abstract, I´m not sure how to make them real, physical. And I maybe that´s why my list of resolutions has not motivated me enough yet.

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Comment from leona
Time: December 30, 2008, 4:31 pm

Hi Sunada,
I love what you are saying about exploring the bigger picture of our life rather than focusing on strategies. I recently wrote something similar on my blog inviting readers to not set goals but, rather, explore a value they would like to enhance in their lives eg instead of saying I will exercise more…noticing ways to practice self-care.
http://transformativeliving.wordpress.com/2008/12/29/dont-set-goals-for-2009/

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Pingback from Rethinking our New Year’s resolutions « transformative-living
Time: December 30, 2008, 4:53 pm

[...] I found this wonderful take on New Year’s Resolutions written by Sunada at Wildmind Buddhist Meditation. [...]

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Pingback from Rethinking Our New Year’s Resolutions : Five Seasons Healing
Time: June 10, 2011, 5:51 pm

[...] steam or get bogged down with other responsibilities that take precedent over these goals. This article shows how some of the Buddha’s most basic messages can be applied to overcome these [...]

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