We all know habits are hard to change, but each year it's a tradition on Jan. 1 to try to do something differently. Our intentions are heartfelt. We've thought through what we want. We're motivated by our suffering or our desire to be better in some way. At the fitness studio my husband and I own, January is our biggest month. We assume part of the reason is that people want to shed pounds gained over the holidays. Others want to start the New Year fresh, with a commitment to living a healthier life that includes regular exercise.
Why do we fail to fulfill our resolutions? One reason is that we don't give them tender loving care. When we buy a plant, we water it and put it in the proper sunlight. So far so good. This is similar to joining a fitness class and buying the equipment or correct clothing. The plant does well for a while and so do we. Then what happens? The plant and our conviction start to wilt. Life and other priorities get in the way.
What can change this pattern? Meditation is the fertilizer. Here are three steps to fertilize your resolutions with meditation.
1. A meditation to prepare for your resolution.
Find a resolution that is realistic for you in your life right now. And, as my cognitive-behavioral colleagues suggest, make your goals measurable. How many pounds do you want to lose and by when? If you want to be more giving in your life, what would that charity look like? Make it concrete, for example: I'll volunteer to tutor once a week at the remedial reading center.
In your comfortable meditation posture allow your mind to float over the possible resolutions. Notice which seems to have the most angst or energy. Hold that one in your attention. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. As you begin to relax, be aware of how your body responds. Are you getting tense, or are you relaxing? If you're relaxing, this is your body giving encouragement: "Yes! This is the resolution I want, too." When we create this mind/body connection, we are empowering ourselves for greater success.
On the other hand, if your body tenses, you may need to address some fears before you proceed with our resolution. Give yourself the chance of success.
2. Visualize yourself being successful.
In this second step, imagine yourself fulfilling the resolution. For example, you see yourself exercising at the gym. Research supports that visualizing is an effective way to enhance performance. As you focus on yourself, notice how you feel in the environment, what you sense in your body, how you feel emotionally. Breathe into any parts of your body that feel tense. Make note of anything that doesn't seem right. If you hate to sweat, wear light clothes and exercise near a fan. If you hate getting up early, then make plans to workout in the evening. Once all the resistance is out of the way, meditate on yourself doing your new habit, whatever it is.
3. Meditate on the feeling that you've reached your goal.
With your resolution in mind, begin to envision that your resolution is fulfilled. You have lost the extra pounds, stopped smoking, become more charitable, or whatever your goal. Now imagine that it's no longer in the future but you have it now. You are doing exactly what you want, being exactly how you want to be. Picture details to make the experience believable to every part of yourself. Notice how your body relaxes. Allow the sensation of satisfaction, euphoria or contentment - whatever you're feeling - to spread throughout your body. Let go of thinking about your resolution, just focus on the feeling of having achieved it. Take a deep breath, noticing the feelings and then meditate on those sensations. You are what you need to be. You have what you want. There is no more desire left. Meditate on the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.
If you're serious about making a change, try those three steps. And if you're struggling, ask yourself if you picked a resolution that isn't right for you right now. But don't give up. Meditate on the resistance along with the desire to change, accepting both. I've found that the dissonance will begin to fade, and sometimes it disappears completely.
For more than 20 years, Susan Morales, M.S.W. has explored human behavior through her work as a psychotherapist, and as a student/practitioner of meditation. In addition to using meditation as a device to help clients with issues of anxiety and depression, she offers classes and retreats to women in substance abuse recovery. She developed Be Who You Love Meditation as a method to teach people how to find greater depth of satisfaction in their lives. She blogs on meditation for annarbor.com and Red Room, and was on the editorial board for "The Voice of Social Workers: Poets and Writers," a journal recently published by the Michigan chapter of NASW. Visit her on Red Room, where you can buy her books.