Happy New Year! Or maybe just … New Year!
As we turn the page on 2021 … what have you learned from 2020? What might give you a boost for a fresh start and the long haul?
In the Karuna program we train in time-tested methods that help us keep our hearts and minds open during difficult times. We look at how we listen to, care for and extend compassion to ourselves and others. It seems that now more than ever we need routines that can help us be resilient as we cope with the crises of our changing world. That’s why this month, we are exploring the topic Resolution/Revolution: Fresh Start for a New Year. If you’d like to explore this topic with us more, you can join Senior Teacher Sandra Ladley on Saturday January 9, 12 - 1 PM Pacific Time for an online Karuna Live interactive talk on the topic, and/or read a little in-depth discussion about it from her here.
What resolution do you want to make that will help you in 2021?
New Year’s Celebration/Review/Fresh Start
In the 1980s I worked in downtown San Francisco. At New Year’s we would gleefully celebrate by tossing the previous year’s daily calendar pages off the roofs of our office buildings. The pages would float and join a snowy swirl of thousands of pages descending and blanket the streets. We would then wade ankle deep through the pages with dates and personal appointments of the past year surfacing in random fashion, like a waking dream. This would of course leave a very big mess for sanitation workers to clean up and they would do so with big sweeping trucks the early hours of the morning after. We would come back to work the next work day and all of it would be gone. There was a lot of waste in this and times have changed but the symbolic sequence of a celebratory toss, floating, review. wading through, and clean-up for a fresh start stays with me. If we consider the calendar pages of 2020 fluttering by, or the repetition for many of us of reliving the same day over and over in a “Groundhog Day” kind of way this past year, then where does that leave us? I recently headed out on a walk in my neighborhood and was stopped in my tracks when a neighbor said to me “Hi. We have a lot to look forward to this year, don’t we?” Actually that hadn’t occurred to me. Heads up! As we begin this year with weary hearts, surrounded by suffering and with indefinite stay at home orders, what can we look forward to? What will help keep our spirits up? What have we learned from 2020? How can we change what we want to change?
So we all know that research shows that resolutions don’t work and diets don’t work. And in recovery programs it’s said “don’t do a geographic” meaning you can’t abruptly move away from your issues because wherever you go - there you still are. Yet at the same time there’s the corny but true “today is the first day of the rest of your life.” We’ve all been inspired by stories from people saying that a major health issue or hitting bottom was the best thing that ever happened to them because it woke them up and helped them change harmful patterns. For many, despite the horrors of the past year, the disruption we’ve experienced has had a similar effect in a “Where have I been all my life?” kind of way. And at the same time just to survive being at home day after day and the onslaught of news and despair we’ve sometimes succumbed to the dangers of a never-ending pajama life and our worst tendencies. How can we chart a course for ourselves that takes these ups and downs into account? If resolutions don’t work then what does?
I’ve gleaned the following shared themes from current research on personal change. During this month’s Karuna Live, on Saturday January 9 from 12-1 PT, we’ll have a time to reflect, identify and develop an achievable or “tiny” personal resolution/revolution plan to help sustain us over the year.
Increasing Success for your Resolutions
A New Year’s resolution is defined as a tradition to resolve to continue good practices, change an undesired trait or behavior, accomplish a personal goal, or otherwise improve our lives at the start of a new year. One half to one third of Americans engage in the ritual of making a resolution at New Year’s. Research shows that we are aided in making change by support from the “environmental nudge” of a new year and similarly to a lesser degree by the start of a new week. These are referred to as the January effect or Monday effect.
In general, things that can help us succeed over the long run are reinforcement for the practice of ‘self-liberation” - that we CAN change, adopting a simple “tiny”good habit instead of avoiding a bad one, rewarding our successes, avoiding temptations, and visualizing our success. Things that can sabotage our efforts include negative thinking and fixating on past harms, berating ourselves and negative self-talk, wishing and pretending there isn’t a problem, avoiding our feelings, and denying and minimizing the dangers of the issue you want to address.
Here is a possible sequence for establishing a resolution plan.
Steps for a Creating a Resolution Plan
1. Reflect and celebrate
Research shows that it’s hard for us to take in the good of our lives. We are wired to fixate on the negative and self-criticism. Take time to reflect on what went well for you this past year and where you did follow-through, no matter how small. This strengthens our own intrinsic health and embodiment of the sense that we can change.
2. Have gratitude
Another corny but true platitude is no person is an island. Let yourself take in the support and connectedness you have in your life, and your good fortune. Count your blessings. Sometimes this brings up the opposite, a sense of poverty, loss or longing and that’s good information but see if you can touch the connectedness and support or belonging you do have, This sense of being part of a support community is also strengthening for us as a foundation for change.
3. Identify the resolution and motivation for it
Identify what it is you want to change. Be as specific and realistic as possible. Why do you want to change it? Research shows that knowing and staying aligned with our motivation helps us, and that internal vs external motivations are more likely to succeed over the long run. So, for example, losing weight to feel better and lessen health problems is more likely to succeed than doing it to meet societal body image expectations.
4. Set a tiny achievable plan - a 1% change
Break the resolution down to the smallest step you can take. It’s said we will increase our success by making 1% changes over time. This way we can recognize and gain strength for continuing from our successes and operate under the radar of the “shoulds” and negative self-talk. In Karuna Training we recommend ongoing meditation practice which is hard for many of us to start and keep going. So you wouldn’t go from zero to 100 and set your resolution as “I’ll practice meditation a half hour every day” you might set it as “I’ll meditate 5 minutes at 9 am each day, or three times a week.” There is data that supports starting anything with 5 minutes is achievable and we can leverage that habit as a foundation for continuing change.
5. Identify a cue, link it to another behavior
Find a cue and ongoing behavior you already have to link your resolution to. So, for example, I wanted to stretch in the mornings. I committed to stretching while my kettle was heating to make coffee. Visual cues also work. People often use their sneakers as a cue for walking or working out.
6. Write it down, see it
There is data that shows that writing down our resolution reinforces and strengthens it. Know where you’ve written it down and refer back to it. Some people find tacking it up for you to see a help. Putting the activity in your calendar as a routine also helps you to see and prioritize it.
7. Tell your friends, engage their support
Going on record and telling people you are doing this helps you tap into support from your community for it. In addition, where can they join you in this? Having a walking or meditation buddy or group can really help keep you on track. Take advantage of zoom and other online support for your resolution.
8. Go gently, ups and downs are part of it
In Mahayana Buddhism there is the helpful slogan from Atisha “not too tight, not too loose.” If you hold yourself too tightly you are bound to backlash. If you are too loose then you can lose the momentum and it can be hard to find your way back. Both tight and loose can be ways of making it harder on ourselves. Go gently with a long view. Every morning brings a fresh start. Sense of humor and having a comedic perspective on our foibles also helps.
9. Plan to reward yourself
Research shows that rewards work in making habits stick. A square of chocolate, a small purchase, a gathering, a ticket to something - what rewards will work for you?
10. You did it! Take time to recognize, celebrate and embody your change
Coming back full circle … recognizing and celebrating our successes is seen as pivotal to accomplishing our goals. An uphill battle or trek does not work. Using hiking as a metaphor, periodically stop to rest, take in the view, appreciate and adjust, then move on. You could schedule these rest stops in your calendar.
I feel we all need help and can support each other in creating personal safety nets of good routines that hold us and strengthen our resiliency this year. I hate to say it but who knows what’s coming next?