The New Year is a time to wipe the slate clean. With heartfelt zeal, we can earnestly make a new start. As the great Zen master Suzuki-roshi used to say, we contact what is called the beginner’s mind, a real hope for keeping new resolutions about ourselves. Of course it’s great to post such resolutions in your office or on the refrigerator, keeping them right before you as you strive for personal change. Since change is so hard, particularly in areas where we have shown considerable weakness, here are five helpful ways to find your center within yourself and hold fast to the new behavior in the New Year:
- Start an active inward life: Once you make your resolutions, you’ll be more likely to succeed with them if you can gaze inside and see what’s blocking you from going forward. I would suggest a practice like meditation, prayer, or deep breathing which can slow your mind down and gradually introduce you to forces which have been secretly waylaying you. Believe me, they will be become obvious very soon. If, for example, your resolve is to stop flying off the handle at your partner, you may realize your mind is moving so quickly all the time that you just slide into the old behavior. Inner practice will get you in touch with your deeper self. You will practice the new pattern of kindness from your center and hold to it, rather than being swept off your path of resolve.
- Monitor daily life as a check on successes and failures: Whether you are trying to get a handle on your anger, boost self confidence, or even are wrestling with an addiction in this New Year, keep a good score card for yourself on how you do. At the end of the day, take five or ten minutes to log them in your journal. Say you have resolved not to eat sweets and made it till January 15th, but on the 16th you binge. This by no means should stop you from still trying. Write about your failure, and just pick up the next day with a whole new beginning. Writing helps you get your weaknesses into awareness. You will now have a much better chance to spot them before they ambush you the next time.
- Expand your friendships: I used to think I should be there for a friend in trouble but that I could pretty much handle hard things on my own. Try just the opposite of this: tell a friend of your struggles with your resolutions. They may be able to help. If you have resolved to lose weight, your friend may see things happening that escape your notice. She may tell you, for example, that you have been skipping your exercise workout when you may not have realized it. A good friend is like a mirror. We all see only a part of ourselves; others see things about us that we don’t. It may be those unseen parts that a friend points out that make the difference in helping you to keep this year’s resolution and feel much, much better about yourself.
- Observe other areas of weakness and try behavior change there: Weaknesses are like a wheel; the spokes all connect to each other and to that center within us. Inner practice gets us in touch with the center. Say we want to keep our resolution to lose 15 pounds but also notice that we show up late for appointments. It wasn’t our idea to work on that problem, but we decide to watch our time more carefully and get to the cafe early to meet our friend. Strangely enough, we find that after actually being early, we get on the scale next day and are a pound and a half lighter. I’m not kidding; it actually helps to challenge a completely different weakness, even if it isn’t on of this year’s resolutions. Willpower exerted works around the wheel; all weaknesses are less when any one of them is challenged, and results can be almost miraculous.
- Pat yourself on the back for trying: Not everyone tackles tough problems willingly. If you are making resolutions to change this year, you are ahead of the game. Too often people leave change till too late, as in a relationship where one partner unknowingly keeps up irritating behaviors till the other just gives up in frustration. Whether you succeed or not, the important thing is that you tried; as Mahatma Gandhi used to say, full effort is full victory. The more people like you there are, who try to become stronger, better, and kinder to others, the better chance we all have to live in a better world in 2008.
About the Author:
Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal is the author of The Path of Direct Awakening: Passages for Meditation. He is also the co-author of Eknath Easwaran’s edition of The Dhammapada and the author of Keats and Zen. He has taught meditation and courses on Han Shan at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University. Dr. Ruppenthal has published numerous articles on such sites as www.Beliefnet.com and www.HealthyWealthynWise.com. Visit Stephen’s work at www.directawakenings.com.