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Is This the Key to Keeping Your New Year's Resolutions?

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It's that time of year when we reflect on the past and plan for the future, and that means resolving to change those habits or circumstances that we've been unhappy with. For many of us, it also means making the same resolutions we've made -- and haven't fulfilled -- year after year. Even though we all desire, or even need, to make changes in our lives, whether we are aware of it or not, many of us are resistant to letting go of old habits. When we make New Year's resolutions we often have unrealistic ideas of how to overcome and stop these resistances from sabotaging our resolve to change. Then, once again, we find ourselves frustrated and unable to move forward. Instead of fighting and struggling with resistance, learn to embrace and work with it so that you can finally break its hold on you. Here are a couple of steps to help you achieve success in 2011 with your resolutions, from my book "Wise Mind, Open Mind":

Step One: Acknowledge and Understand Your Resistance

The first step in embracing your resistance is to identify what it is and whther you have any hidden ones. I give readers different exercises to help them with this. Once you have acknowledged them, the metaphor I like to use is to "mulch your resistances" as opposed to overcoming them. There is an ancient Buddhist story of two farmers living next to each other. One farmer takes all of his horse manure and keeps throwing it over the fence into the other farmer's yard. About six months later, he notices that the other farmer's tomatoes are gigantic, his pumpkins are huge, his corn is green and his front yard is filled with tall grass. I don't believe that we can ever get rid of certain resistances or emotions, so instead it is important to work with mulching them.

Step Two: Learn the Payoffs to Your Resistance

The next step is to understand the payoffs of resistance, as these are what are holding you back from moving forward. Here are five basic ones:

  • By resisting change, we can avoid the unknown. What's familiar may not be terribly comfortable, but sometimes it seems that the devil we know is better than the devil we don't know. We fear that venturing into the unknown will cause us to discover painful secrets about the world and ourselves that have been hidden from us.
  • We can avoid being judged as "strange." When parents are frightened by their child's differentness, labeling him as "strange," they'll usually try to stifle his creativity. The child, sensing their disapproval and fearing abandonment, can shut down his creative flow and then either tries to conform to his parents' expectations or acts out, claiming not to care what anyone thinks of him.
  • Another payoff is that we can avoid failure. When we fear failure, we tend to overestimate the risk we're taking and imagine the worst possible scenario -- the emotional equivalent of our parents deserting us as children.
  • We can avoid success. Strange though it may seem, a fear of success can cause as much resistance to change as a fear of failure can. While you may consciously long for a promotion or hope that your romantic relationship will result in marriage, unconsciously you may be afraid of what will happen if these changes occur.
  • Finally, we can avoid feeling guilty. If we take a risk and make a change, we may feel guilty because we're contradicting what others think we should or shouldn't be doing with our lives.

This New Year is a time of rebirth following so many months of pain and difficulty during these harsh economic times. This is the year that we can rise from the ashes of our pain and turn them into healthy, vibrant, creative mulch, and for people to reinvent themselves by transforming their breakdowns into breakthroughs. But making real outer change begins first with an internal journey, and mindfulness is a powerful tool to help you navigate the inner recesses of your mind and psyche.

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Ronald A. Alexander, PhD, OpenMind Training Institute