Making Resolutions that Last

On New Year’s Eve, I have a ritual. I attend a morning workshop at the cozy little yoga studio nestled in the farming town where my family gathers for the holidays. The studio is warm, the floor a smooth, ashen grey, and pristinely mopped. As students unfold their mats and prop themselves against bolsters, the room buzzes with talk of resolutions. 

Some resolutions come in a flash of recognition or insight, and others are slow to come. As I sit with my back against the wall, my thoughts are not percolating for the first time. I have immersed myself in plans to floss my teeth, meet a friend, and exercise daily for days to come. You might feel a smile pressing into your lips. You find yourself thinking that these too were your resolutions in year’s past. But like mine, they went down the tubes by February.

Why is it so hard to stick to our New Year’s resolutions?

Until recently, I never took the time to examine why my resolutions or goal-setting didn’t work out. I glossed over it and thought it was a part of the progressive downturn of the New Year. The truth is, some days are unexpectedly busy, and exercise goes by the wayside. Some nights, I’m too tired to floss my teeth.

During the yoga workshop, I am suspended in a trance of music and a wash of peace for two hours while I jot self-transformation plans. The new year encroaches, and over dinner, my loved ones are eager to hear each resolution, and I am proud to share. We nod in solidarity. What gets lost in translation? Are the goals too lofty? 

An intention from the beginning of one yoga class sticks in my mind:

“You don’t always get where you want to go, but you end up where you’re meant to be.”
The teacher says it in a soothing, reliable voice.

It makes me think about the practice of intention setting. The power of intentions has more to do with your motivation than the outcome.

Internal motivations vs. external motivations

Let’s break it down with an example. If you set a resolution to lose twenty pounds, you are only thinking along the lines of external motivations instead of internal motivations. You neglect the building blocks that form the foundation for your goal. For instance, maybe one of your reasons for weight loss is to prevent heart disease and diabetes because it runs in your family. Perhaps you want to eat better to feel better energy or exercise to improve your mood and calm your mind. Both of these are examples of internal motivations.

We often miss the smaller but essential successes, the road signs that we’re on the right track. We don’t enjoy the process because we’re wracked with desire and blinded by a yearning for a future version of ourselves. When we hit milestones related to our resolution, it reinforces our intention and sends positive feedback to our brains. The chemical reinforcement increases the likelihood that you will see your goal through to completion and stick with it. Focusing on the smaller things could be just what you need to build the tool kit to fulfill your resolution.

To get to where you want to be, focus on how you want to feel.

Our resolutions often reflect how we would like to be seen and understood. But with all the build-up and reflection that comes with the year’s end, we still tend to neglect to focus on how we feel. This year, try to build your resolution from the bottom up—based on how you want to feel.  You may have short and medium-term goals that support your long-term resolution. 

In any journey, it’s useful to know where you’re coming from, the landmarks and road stops along the way, and why you’re going where you’re going. This year, give your resolution depth, and layers, and the resilience of your goal will strengthen. When you focus on the intention behind your resolution, you’ll find increased flexibility to adjust your goal if needed and stay the course with self-compassion. 

In that workshop, we decorated the front of our resolution journals, detailing the year in our fanciest lettering with glitter glue. We spent more time on the outside than on the inside.

This year, try to go inside first. It’s hard. There’s a lot of stimulus and many distractions. But if you get quiet and listen long enough, you’ll get in touch with the reasons behind your resolution. And those reasons will fuel you with meaning. 

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