Making New Year’s Resolutions work

At this time of year, people’s thoughts often turn to new-year resolutions. They resolve to make changes in their habits, do things differently, and initiate new and different outcomes. A few weeks later, most of these resolutions have gone by the wayside, and life reverts to normal. This raises several questions.

When you decide to change something, is it all your own choice, or are you responding to input from an external source? Are you doing it because you “should” or because some source is quoting scary statistics?

Are you comfortable with the change in your action as well as wanting the long-term result? Are you losing benefits from the old behaviour that turn out to be important?

If you were considering new year resolutions, you would do well to make a thorough investigation before you start.

The outcome of this article is to give you the capacity to identify the difference between something you personally desire and something you think you should do and to enable you to discover alternative options in case your first choice has unwanted consequences. You will also benefit from identifying any worthwhile intentions for making a change.

First, imagine having the result you want in detail. This is not imagining the action you expect to have to take. That comes later. This is the experience of having achieved your outcome. Make it a full-body experience as if you were inside your own future inside the outcome. See and hear your world and feel what it is like to be there in your own body. Do you like it? Does it sit well with you? Does it seem possible and natural to you?

Now, take one step backwards, and in that place, discover what you want your outcome to do for you. Ask yourself, “What do I want this for” or “What will having this outcome do for me”, or “What do I want through having this?”

If your answer starts with “because,” you are answering the question, “Why do I want this?”. “Why” questions will not serve you well in this process. “Why do I want to get up an hour early every morning? Because I have to go for a walk. Why go for a walk? Because I’m fat. Notice that the “why” questions justify your decision and take you to a dead end, while the “what for” questions below take you to increasingly general intentions for having your outcome.

Your answer to the question, “What do I want this for?” will be to be, do or have something else, of which the outcome is an example or a stepping stone. For example, “My outcome is to get up one hour earlier every morning and walk for 45 minutes. I want it for losing 10 kilos. I want that to look pretty for me and to conform to external opinions about health. On second thoughts, external opinion turns me off, but I still want to look pretty. I want that to feel good; I like feeling good, and when I feel good, I enjoy life.”.

Now, we have four intentions, each more general than the last. We have additional criteria to bring to the outcome and more options for fulfilling the intentions. Before we explore the outcome further, there is one more piece of information we need. The consequences of having the outcome may be different from the intention for doing it and we need to discover what they are.

So, are the consequences of getting up an hour early every morning acceptable? Will they be acceptable every morning? The chances are that there will be a downside, at least some of the time. Are the consequences of going for a walk every morning acceptable? What happens if you miss a day? Will you actually lose the 10 kilos by this method? Are the rewards worth the effort? Even if you do lose the 10 kilos, what are the consequences of looking pretty? Even that might have unfortunate consequences you have not thought about.

Make a spot to the side of your outcome for the consequences of that outcome, step into the consequences, and experience them as if in real time. Explore what it is like to live in the situation to discover both desirable and unwanted consequences. Do this for each of the intentions as well, so you have a set of consequences for each outcome and intention.

The test for a worthwhile outcome is that your intention for having it matches the consequences of having it. Anytime the consequences do not match up to the intention, your outcome needs revision. The best way to revise an outcome is from your highest intention.

Using the example, the highest intention is to enjoy life. The intention below is to feel good. The one below that is to look pretty, and the lowest one is to lose 10 kilos. The outcome at the bottom is to get up early and walk for 45 minutes every morning.

If you take your own highest intention as the guiding principle, note how its influence affects the intention immediately below it. Do this for each level of intention, and you will create an outcome that pleases and suits you. In our example, how does enjoying life as a principle influence feeling good? How does feeling good influence looking pretty? And all the way down to the original outcome.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that getting up an hour early every morning is not enjoyable and does not feel good. If it were, the chances are you would be doing it already. The intention is to walk for 45 minutes a day. If you make that the outcome, you might choose to do it in the morning on some days and at other times on other days. You might do it in two or three shorter periods sometimes. Already, there is more flexibility than you had in the original outcome. This may or may not be sufficiently in keeping with the higher intentions to work for you. You can drop this outcome completely if you want to.

What if losing 10 kilos became the outcome, or even looking pretty or feeling good? How many different ways can you meet these intentions? Which do you keep and which do you drop or change?

The intention for this process is to enable you to find outcomes and intentions that fit your own choices and values. Sometimes you may find that “oughts” and “shoulds” give way to intentions that work for you. If so, change the outcome to an expression of your own intentions. The nature of a “should” as opposed to a “choose” or “want” is something that suits someone else or reflects their values but does not appeal to you. So, while you might have been trying valiantly to accommodate a “should,” as long as it is in that form, it is going to be very hard work if it succeeds at all.

You can save yourself a lot of time and effort by exploring possible changes, resolutions, projects, and outcomes using this process. The reward is that when you have a congruent outcome and intention that genuinely appeals to you, the action you take to achieve it becomes supported by your unconscious processes, so it feels intuitive and not like hard work.

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