Revisiting Your New Years Resolutions

July 2012

More than half of the year has passed. How are you doing with your new year’s resolutions for this year? Do you wonder why you could carry out some but not others? Do you even remember what they were? I have been reviewing mine this week and I learned quite a bit about myself just by looking at which resolutions I have carried out and which ones I haven’t. I would like to share with you some insights I have about the pitfalls that prevented me from being persistent about my goals, and the tips that keep me sticking to my goals.

At the beginning of the year, I was feeling quite discouraged about the way my life was going. Life with a baby often made me feel so out of control — I had very little free time, and and the time I have was very unpredictable. I decided that I would do something to get my life somewhat on track and I would feel a sense of order. The following were my new year’s resolutions:

  1. Resume my practice of Zen meditation and be more committed to it
  2. Start Hatha Yoga 1-2 times per week to get my body in shape
  3. Do my daily walk when I send Sophie to day care
  4. Start my blog on treating depression and anxieties with acupuncture and Chinese Medicine
  5. Declare Thursdays as my “play day” and I will paint or draw or do other art related things

So far, I have done No. 1 and No. 4; I have done 70% of the No. 2, 70-80% of No.3. And I am very bad with No. 5. I have only spent 2 hours total in painting and maybe another 4-5 hours drawing. My “play day” is spent between house chores and work related things.

When I look at the data, I am not surprised. I am good at sticking to something because I want to improve myself, which explains why I did No. 1 to No. 4 well. Among self-improvement, I value intellectual and spiritual ones more than physical ones, which explained that I did better in No. 1 and 4 than No. 2 and 3. I didn’t do much of No. 5 because deep down, I consider “playing” is not a priority. Even though I would like to give myself more time to develop my artistic ability, my stubborn belief about art being “playing, not practical” prevented me from carrying out my intention.

So, my first insight is this: Make your resolutions fit your value system. If you want to make your new years’ resolutions stick, you need to make them fit your values. Not what you should do, but what is realistic for you to do. You can make fancy resolutions, but you will forget about them one month later. If you want to make some resolutions that stretch your values, like my resolution about painting, you need to deal with the underlying belief before you can make the resolution stick.

Having said that, I don’t mean that you shouldn’t set a goal that is challenging to you. By definition, resolutions are not something super easy. You need to be resolute to carry them out.

Here is my second insight that I gained from my daily meditation practice that will help you become more resolute. Just do it and make it into a habit. Once something becomes a habit, it is a lot easier to be persistent in doing it.

I resumed my half an hour meditation daily at the beginning of this year. A lot of times I sat with a sense of guilt, feeling that I should get up and do something more productive; other times I struggled with drowsiness, feeling it was a total waste of time; and again some time I sat hearing Sophie crying and my husband trying to comfort her and I felt like a bad mother. But again and again, I just sat. I knew that my mind would come up with all sorts of excuses for not doing it, and I decided to ignore them. Now it becomes very much a habit. It brings me a sense of ease among uncertainties of life. It teaches me to accept life as it is, and engage with each moment whole-heartedly. Once a week I go to North Shore Zendo to do one-hour meditation. I have also gone to the Great Vow Zen Monastery in Oregon for a weekend meditation retreat.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to get into a sense of “all or nothing” when it is about resolutions. Often when I missed several weeks of yoga, I felt badly and wanted to quit. The voice tells me that I should go every week, and since I have missed several weeks I have spoiled the whole thing. If I quit, I could just scratch it and then pretend that it was not my resolution. Otherwise, I have to deal with the awful feeling of failure. In the past, I failed to carry out a lot of resolutions just for this reason. This year, I watched this tendency and managed it by just doing what I could at the moment. I remember that it had been raining for almost a week and instead of walking I drove Sophie to daycare. When the weather got better, I just wanted to drive Sophie to day care because it would not remind me of failing to walk for a week. But I walked. I decided that I could always re-start. And each time is a fresh start. And it is better to walk a little today then not walk at all. Now looking back, what helped me to do 70-80% of the goal 2 and 3 is my third insight: Do a little bit each time and it is never too late to restart.

What are your new years resolutions? How are you doing with them? If you are not persistent about them or if you haven’t started, start now. It is never too late and a little bit each time adds up.