I once overheard a man complain that the gym was overcrowded mid-January, to which his friend replied, "Don't worry, they'll be gone by February." Many people set a New Year's resolution, yet make no steps toward realizing their goals or fail to follow through during the year. Clearly, setting a large annual goal is not a guarantee that you will achieve big changes.
Many of the practical techniques I've tried in the past were not successful. Buying a gym membership has made me no thinner and designing a beautiful meditation room has not translated into more hours on the cushion. In the end, these steps were not the magic key to my transformation.
Rather than focusing on the final results, this year I'd recommend we approach our resolutions inwardly through the development of important attitudes and outwardly through conscious effort. Whatever we believe and practice in our own lives, these wise sayings from Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism will definitely support you in your quest for change this year.
1. The Prophet Muhammad once said, "Verily actions are judged by their intentions." Intentionality is a powerful tool, because it requires that we consciously acknowledge our purpose and the direction in which we're moving. To follow through with your New Year's goals, set intentions instead of resolutions and do it regularly. The process of setting intentions is stronger, because we know from the outset that intentions must be continuously renewed. Whenever we get off-track, recalling our intentions is like pressing the "reset" button. Establish in advance a regular cycle - daily, weekly, monthly - when you will restate your intentions and return your consciousness to your important goal.
2. The Hindu teachings in the Bhagavad Gita encourage the reader to "detach from the fruit of your actions." This timeless advice, like the words of the Prophet Muhammad, places value on the intention behind the action and the effort exerted, rather than the outcome of the action. Detaching from the fruits of our actions has great benefit, since it relieves us of the overwhelming feeling that often comes when we seek nothing less than perfection. The one who detaches from the outcome of their effort still knows they must continuously "show up," act, and work toward their goal. This is a perfect remedy for those of us who are discouraged when our results don't show immediately. Focusing on the action rather than the outcome forces us to acknowledge that so long as we are putting in the work, we have fulfilled our commitment.
3. Be consistent. A Buddhist proverb states, "If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep walking." To reach our New Year's goals we must first face the right direction by setting our intentions, and then we must consistently, step-by-step walk toward it. Slow or fast, it doesn't matter. If we make consistent steps without ceasing, we will be actualizing the changes we hope to make.
4. Patience is a virtue. The Bible tells us, "But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." (Romans 8: 25) Some of the important goals we set will take longer than a year to reach. Maybe you will need another six months to receive a promotion at work, or to establish regular daily meditation. To our intentionality, consistent action, and detachment, we must add hopeful patience. This is not a passive excuse to "do nothing and wait." Patience is a requisite inner attitude that we must cultivate while consciously working on ourselves. Patience is a key to detaching from the outcome of our actions because it helps us to persevere in our disciplined efforts while knowing that our transformation will unfold in its own time. Patience gives rise to the confidence we need to watch the new discipline change us for the better, even when our end goal is far from sight.
5. Resolve to cultivate character traits. Often many of the things we want to improve or change about our lives lead back to the personal qualities we need to cultivate. Instead of emphasizing the outcome of our actions, we must focus on cultivating the qualities we need to overcome our challenges. The Old Testament says, "Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone on the face of the earth." (Numbers 12:3) Humility, Generosity, Patience, Perseverance, Veracity, Discernment - these are the virtuous character traits that can bridge the gap between you and your goal. Working on the development of these qualities will help you reach your goals next year too. Someone who has worked diligently on cultivating patience and perseverance will bring those qualities to all their challenges and trials. We all learned about these traits as children, either explicitly or through schoolhouse lessons about sharing, trying our best, and making wise decisions. Returning to these qualities and making them a central focus of our contemplation and action will prepare us for any challenge that may come.