A new monthly blog first Monday of the month, by Vimalasara, a.k.a. Valerie Mason-John.
Why is it that so many people make new year’s resolutions, and two weeks later, they are off the wagon?
A study in 2007 by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol UK showed that 78% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, and those who succeed have 5 traits in common.
Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, (a system where small measurable goals are being set; such as, a pound a week, instead of saying “lose weight”), while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.
Of course, the date the new year begins is dependent on the culture we come from; not everyone writes down their resolutions for January 1st. Most cultures do, however, mark the beginning of their new year by letting go of the old.
In fact, up until 1751, the new year in England and Wales began on March 25th, despite the fact that the order of months in the Roman calendar has been January to December since King Numa Pompilius in about 700 BC. Many countries in Asia mark their new year in the spring period, which seems more apt for new year’s resolutions, as the new cycle of life in nature is about to emerge.
Despite all this, the fact remains that millions of people all around the globe will be making new year’s resolutions on January 1st. These resolutions will range from abstaining from intoxicants or from over-indulging in food to paying off debt, getting physically active, or being less grumpy.
Apparently, the top 5 resolutions for 2012 are to
- be financially-savvy;
- read at least one book per month;
- eat properly;
- get enough sleep; and
- keep a journal of awesome moments.
Notice that none of them have anything to do with abstaining, which may be one of the factors that helps maintain a resolution. In Buddhism, we tend to think of vows—making a strong commitment to oneself. In the lay tradition there are five precepts that we can take and observe. A person may take only one or two precepts, or all five, precepts as a commitment to oneself to change. Though these precepts talk of refraining from an action, they are not commandments. They are what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “Training Principals” for the mind. Sangharakshita, the founder of the Triratna Buddhist Community has developed a positive antidote to each precept to help us train the mind:
- To refrain from harming living creatures (killing). With deeds of loving kindness I purify my body.
- To refrain from taking that which is not given (stealing). With open handed generosity I purify my body.
- To refrain from sexual misconduct. With stillness, simplicity and contentment I purify my body.
- To refrain from false speech. With truthful communication I purify my speech.
- To refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness. With mindfulness clear and radiant I purify mind.
These antidotes could be seen as the remedy for keeping one’s commitment to oneself. Perhaps lending from Sangharakshita’s advice, when making a new year’s resolution for 2012, think about the antidote. And, most importantly, think about an action plan.
For example, the resolution, I will not overeat any more, could have the antidote, With serenity and courage, I purify my mind.
The action plan could be, I will seek help. I will record what I eat so that I notice exactly what I am doing with my food.
Awareness is the key to success when making a resolution.
Of course, we do not have to wait until the new year to change our lives. Some people use their birthday as a time of reflection. For others, fortunately or unfortunately, a tragic experience or threatening illness brings about period of reflection. However, after a period of time, we often find ourselves off the wagon again.
Buddhism, like many spiritual paths, can offer freedom from suffering if we are willing to open up to the core teachings of the Buddha. They can offer a way of living that enables us to stay on the wagon. Or in Buddhist speech, enable us to stay Mindful and Aware.
A short practice to enable us to become more Mindful
Take a long in breath – Take a long out breath
Observe a long in breath – Observe a long out breath
Become aware of the present moment
And Just sit –
Let your thoughts arise and cease
And Just sit – with heart/mind open to the present moment
Next Month – Exploring the first core teaching of Buddhism and Recovery. The First Noble Truth.