I am fascinated by a phenomenon which happens every January.
The local fitness centers fill up with slightly overweight to very overweight folks who have made recovering their fitness one of their goals for the new year. They have shiny new sweats, bright white new cross-training shoes, and often will be eagerly following a new personal trainer from machine to machine. They are so engaged, so excited, so hopeful that this will be the year they get back in shape.
Interesting, isn’t it, to see the difference in just one month? The gym tends to drop back down to a pre-holiday work-out level. The perseverance piece doesn’t seem to keep up with the excitement piece. There is no denying it — creating new habits is a challenge. It doesn’t matter what the new habit is we try to establish. It is much, much easier to revert to our old ways than to keep on keeping on with a new paradigm.
I was talking about this just last night with a friend.
I am fascinated by people who do makeovers and look so amazing afterwards – their hair is different, their makeup is different, they dress differently, and it all works so well! But within the first 30 days back at home, they tend to easily go right back into the old hair style, the old make up colors, and back into the sweats and t-shirts.
It’s a human tendency. I’m very, very sure this is not the first article or blog you’ve read about new year’s resolutions and the difficulty in sticking with them. Just Google “Breaking New Year’s Resolutions” and tell me how many hits you see. In less than .3 seconds I got 36 million+ hits! Wow! Some of the articles discuss how not to break your resolutions, some discuss why we break them, but they are all talking about something we are all familiar with in one way or another.
I’m so interested in what our holy texts say which illuminates our understanding in things like this. Would you think that the Bible has something to say about New Year’s Resolutions? No? You might be surprised, then. What about Buddha? Did he ever teach anything about New Year’s Resolutions? I think we can learn a lot from Buddhist teachings which are extremely relevant to New Year’s resolutions.
Below are three spiritual understandings about making resolutions which may help you create the new habits you want in your life:
Resolve first to be consistent with your new habits. Before you even begin to determine for yourself what your new habit is going to be, count the cost of the habit and be sure it is sustainable! There is a parable of Jesus’ in the Gospel of Luke about a man who is going to build a building. Before he begins to build the tower, he “counts the cost.” He wants to be sure that when he has begun the work, he can see it to completion!
We want to set our sights on new habits we know we can maintain and sustain. One of the costs is perseverance. Perseverance is costly. It means giving up the time we were doing something else prior to creating the new habit. Galatians 6:9 is one of my favorite verses on how profitable perseverance can be: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” How true is this of creating new habits?!
Compare your performance to your own past performance, not to anyone else’s. I know that it is easier for me to give up in my pursuit of creating new habits because I look around and see that even if I give up, I would still be ahead of my friend or perhaps a family member. I did that one year with weight loss. I lost weight until I was skinnier than a particular friend of mine, but I had not yet hit my target weight.
Oh well, I stopped there, because I was comparing myself to someone else! But that is not really how I want to measure my own success! In the Dhammapada, the Buddha said, “Do not consider the faults of others or what they have or haven’t done. Consider rather what you yourself have or haven’t done.” The Bible puts it this way in Galatians 6:4, “Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.” I measure my success by out-doing my own personal bests.
Evaluate your resolution for inclusiveness. Does your resolution benefit only yourself, or is it a resolution whose implementation will make the world a better place? We tend to naturally follow through with commitments from which others will benefit as well more consistently than with those from which we are the only ones to derive benefits. For example, if I want to eat more vegetables in the new year, but my family does not, then I can predict that my focus on eating more vegetables is going to last about 2 weeks.
However, if my family is included in my vision of eating more vegetables in the New Year, and they embrace this resolution, guess what?! It’s going to be a more long-term focus for me, too. This might be one way to look at the Buddha’s expression of “unselfish joy,” or at the biblical concept of “putting others’ needs before our own.” It is far more likely that an inclusive resolution will be turned into a long-lasting, new habit.
So perhaps the best New Year’s resolution of all is to have perseverance, commitment and consistency needed to create the new habits which will result in the new you for the New Year! I wish you all the success which is right here waiting for you.