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The start of a new year is associated with new beginnings. It’s a time when people often re-evaluate their life and make changes. One way to do this is to set new year’s resolutions.
There has recently been some pushback to the idea of new year’s resolutions. Some people see it as “stuff you should have been doing all along”, and there is definitely truth to that. But I don’t see it as an either-or scenario.
You should be gradually improving yourself all year round, and doing a major re-evaluation and overhaul every once in a while. Doing this sort of overhaul weekly would be exhausting and probably not very useful because you wouldn’t be sticking with anything long enough to see results.
So from that perspective, the practice of making new year’s resolutions is actually a good one.
“Ok”, you say. “I want to get into meditation as my 2017 new years resolution.”
I’ve heard this from many people recently. It’s a good sentiment, but I have to disappoint you: as far as new year’s resolutions go, it’s a weak one. And I’ll tell you why.
With that kind of resolution, how can you know that you are making progress? How will you know when you have achieved it? Exactly, you won’t. It’s too vague. It’s so vague that no one, including yourself, will be able to decide if you have actually achieved it. This is why people fail at new year’s resolutions. Don’t get me wrong, having a general vision is good to start, but if you don’t break it down, it will remain what it is – a general, blurry vision.
The trick to making new year’s resolutions that work is making them specific, measurable, achievable, and meaningful. That way, you increase your chances of actually sticking to them and fulfilling them.
Make Your New Year’s Resolution Specific
Let’s keep going with the example of getting into meditation.
First of all, why do you want to do it? Are you looking for stress or anxiety relief? Better focus? Improved sleep? Deeper spiritual development?
All those reasons may require different approaches. You have to be specific in your goals if you want specific results.
If you’re looking for anxiety relief, you may want to practice 10-20 minutes of open awareness meditation before you start your day, and repeat it several times throughout the day. This type of meditation is also sometimes called mindfulness, or vipassana. It helps you be more present and be more aware of what is happening in your body, mind, and surroundings and it has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety.Open awareness meditation, or mindfulness, has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety Click To Tweet
If you want better focus, doing 10-20 minutes of focus meditation in the morning and afternoon is a good idea. Focus meditation is the type of meditation where you focus your mind on one thing – a word or sound, the spot between your eyes, your breath, or any other object. It trains your brain to be laser-focused.
If you’re looking for resilience or deeper spiritual development, you’ll need to get more serious about your meditation practice: meditating for an hour or more every day and using both of the above techniques, plus emotional meditation where you sit with difficult emotions as a way of un-repressing and process them.
So before you decide to “get into meditation”, specify what it is that you’re looking for.
Make It Measurable
Once you have gotten specific, now you have to figure out how to measure your progress and results. If you don’t, how will you know if you are actually making the changes you set out to make? Don’t let yourself off the hook by setting it to something vague like “I’ll just do it when I feel like it and see how it goes”. That’s how you set yourself up for laziness and failure. It’s a cliche but it’s true: what gets measured gets done.Track your meditation practice: what gets measured gets done. Click To Tweet
Continuing with our meditation example, start tracking your meditation habit (with an app or journal).
You can also start self-evaluating whatever criteria you are looking to improve: anxiety, focus, sleep quality, etc. It can be something as simple as filling in an answer to one question every day, like “how anxious did I feel today on a scale from 1-5?”. You could also measure other things that are associated with anxiety, like sweating or heart rate (some wearable fitness devices have this feature).
If your goal is something more intangible like resilience or spiritual development, you can start keeping a journal of experiences you’ve had during / as a result of meditation. They will change overtime, and likely increase in intensity and impact. You will also need to meditate a lot more, so keeping up with the practice and tracking it is particularly important. Set a daily reminder or get a meditation app to do this for you.
Then at the end of the year, look at your data and observe your improvements.
Make It Achievable
So you’re inspired and you decide you want to meditate for an hour a day, every day of next year. Great. The only thing is, you have never meditated before, you just gave birth to a baby, and you have 2 other small kids and 3 noisy dogs in the house and you’re a single mom. It’s admirable that you want to start meditating for an hour a day, but at this point in your life it may be a very difficult goal to achieve. Not to say you shouldn’t try. But setting your goal too high and not reaching it can leave you disappointed.
You might want to start with something more achievable – 10 minutes daily, and then as you get better at meditating, up the dosage.
Make It Meaningful
Now, there is something to be said for what kinds of resolutions you choose and why.
Let’s say you want to get into meditation because you keep hearing about how good it is for your health. Or because all your friends are doing it. But if you are already a fairly balanced person, you may not have a strong pull to spend 10 minutes a day sitting in silence.
Now, I’m not saying that balanced people won’t benefit from meditation – they do. It may just not be a high priority for you when framed as “reduce anxiety and sleep better”. Just like if you are already thin, losing weight is not a priority.
If you are into self-development of any sort, you can frame learning how to meditate as an opportunity to improve and optimize your brain. You can think of it as brain training. The more you train, the better your technique gets, the fitter your brain gets. From that perspective, meditating for an hour a day doesn’t seem so crazy.Think of meditation as brain training. The more you meditate, the fitter your brain gets. Click To Tweet
Of course, meditation is much more than brain optimization, but this can be a useful framework to have if you’re a novice. Later on in your practice, as you start getting other benefits of meditation, your motivating factors will likely change. But being aware of what motivates you and using it to your advantage is very helpful for achieving your new year’s resolutions – and goals in general.
Make sure your new year’s resolution is not only meaningful, but significant enough to warrant your attention and energy. If you only kind of, sort of want something, you will most likely never get it.If you only kind of, sort of want something, you will most likely never get it. Click To Tweet
Many people try meditating a few times, but never stick to it. On the other hand, most regular meditators do it because they really want to or need to do it. It’s not like it’s a particularly fun activity – not at first anyway. So find what it is that you really want to get out of meditation, and keep it in mind.
It could be because you have decided to finally get rid your your anxiety, or because you have an intense job and you need to operate at a higher capacity mentally, or maybe you are being pulled by a spiritual pursuit. Whatever your reason is, it needs to be significant.
Meditate like your head is on fire. Like it’s the only thing in the world that matters. That’s the kind of dedication you need to get real results.
And that doesn’t just apply to meditation – it applies to anything you want to do in life. To any goal you set this year.
So, perhaps it’s time to set some new year’s resolutions. Specific, measurable, achievable, meaningful ones.