January first may be a somewhat arbitrary date to divide the chapters of our lives, but there’s something to be said for joining the momentum of the mass consciousness focused on bettering ourselves. Sure, you can make new habits anytime, but there aren’t always millions of other people doing it at the same time.
That said, clearly the group trajectory isn’t enough to ensure your success. Plenty of people make and break resolutions every year, and while a few weeks (or days, as the case may be) of a healthy new habit is better than nothing, there’s also the toll of broken self-trust to consider.
If you’re going to make an agreement with yourself, it’s best to choose terms that you can fulfill, because a lack of self-trust is a serious impediment. You may think, “It just means I changed my mind about exercise and cookies,” but it has broader consequences in the bigger picture of your ability to choose and create the life you desire.
What I’m saying is, don’t do it unless you’re serious about it. And even if you are serious, I still recommend committing to just one thing. I know, I know, you can do lots of things. But I’m saying, just do one thing not only because it’s harder to keep multiple resolutions than it is to keep a single one, but also because it means that your focus and power won’t be divided (any more than they already are). Take on one thing and give all the “resolution energy” you’ve got to that one thing. Later you can add another thing.
I don’t mean to sound like I’m lowering the bar for you. I think people are capable of greatness far beyond their imagined limitations. But imagined limitations become actual limitations when we believe in them. In subtle ways we tend to sabotage ourselves, and one of the most effective forms of self-sabotage is crappy focus. We often simply don’t hold our attention on something for long enough to see it through.
Yes, there are some organic causes of impaired mental focus, but just because someone gets more done when they take an ADD drug (i.e., amphetamine), doesn’t prove that the cause was biological. In an age when we’re bombarded with a constant stream of data through multiple devices, an age with more options for distraction than ever before, we may be regularly making subconscious choices that reinforce a short attention span. Regardless of the cause, we can all improve our ability to focus simply by practicing it.
Let’s try a little exercise. It will only take one minute. Choose something small and natural in your environment to gaze at, like a candle flame, a leaf, a piece of food, or one of the lines on your palm. You’re going to spend just 60 seconds looking at it without taking your eyes or mind off it, and without thinking and mentally “talking” to yourself about what you’re looking at or anything else. Try it now, then come back.
How did it go? Were you able to do it for the whole minute? What did you notice? Was it squirmy? Was it relaxing? When I do this, I notice my breathing slows down significantly and I feel grounded. This shift may be partly due to looking at whatever I’m looking at, but I think the main reason it feels peaceful is because it’s a break from continuous mental chatter and shifting focus.
Back to resolutions, I encourage you to choose a single thing to commit to. Write down what exactly it means so that you’re clear about how to stay in the spirit of this commitment. Choose a time frame for the commitment; don’t make it open-ended because that implies forever. If you have a hard time with follow-through, you might want to start with a very short time frame, like one day. You can always re-up your commitment at the end of the period you choose.
Ensure that you don’t forget it by writing it down, setting reminder alarms for yourself, finding a partner to do this with, renting out billboard space along your commute . . . whatever it takes. Finally, as part of your commitment practice, set aside just 60 seconds every morning to sit and focus on the commitment, visualizing yourself embodying it.
Let us know how it goes.