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  • Writer's pictureallenbroadman

The Resolution to End all Resolutions.

What does it take to change a habit?

New Year’s resolutions have always seemed a bit odd to me, and so do “Days of Kindness” and fill-in-the-blank “Awareness Months.” They all seem like inventions to encourage some good activity for a day or a week, that really should be something we do all the time, with ongoing effort. They leave me wondering, “What about the other 364 days of the year, or the other 11 months?”

Maybe that’s a pessimistic attitude on my part. Maybe any encouragement towards wholesome thinking and action is always a good thing. But I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a way in which people commit to the one day, or the one week, and then forget about the topic all the rest of the time. It’s sort of like doing penance – I’ve put my time in and now I’m absolved, so let’s get on to the next really “important” thing.

New Year’s resolutions tend to focus on changing habits. One recent poll shows top-ten items such as exercising more, losing weight, eating healthier, saving money, and quitting smoking. To be sure, these are all good things to do, they are all worthwhile goals for personal change. And if New Year’s is the encouragement to make a personal affirmation to make these changes, then great. And yet for most people, such resolutions are not successful – we begin strong, with the best intentions, get out of the starting gate fast, but then falter. What gets in the way?

Habits and Commitments

For many of us, we underestimate the amount of ongoing commitment that’s necessary to make lasting change. Changing habits doesn’t happen from wishing things to be different, or from short-term or scattered efforts. And the stronger and older the habit, the more effort and commitment it takes to change it in a significant way. Consider that list of popular resolutions – they involve changing the way we eat, the way we consume material things, or breaking addictions. These are deeply ingrained habits, which for many of us have been around for years, decades, or even lifetimes. What undermines our efforts?

Distraction undermines our action and turns us away from that which our sincerity tells us to go towards. .

So many of us have very sincere aspirations for positive change in our lives, but something isn’t working out for us. One of the biggest things that works against us is distraction. Sincerity is so important, maybe even the most important factor for personal transformation - it motivates our action and helps us find the right direction to move in. But distraction undermines our action and turns us away from that which our sincerity tells us to go towards. How can you make the effort to exercise if your plans for the gym are set aside so you can watch TikTok videos of dancing siblings or cats making mischief around the house?

The problem is not that the gym gets postponed for a little while - that by itself would be okay, it would just be a short delay. The problem is the distraction from our intention. The TikTok or YouTube or social media rabbit hole, distracts us from our resolve to make the change we sincerely want. Big changes that last a long time require continual resolve, not resolve that comes and goes. Distractions into the trivial break the momentum of our resolve and if our resolve is undermined, then so is the likelihood that we will persist in our efforts, and that means the chances of success are lessened. So, what to do?

Just One Resolution

How can we reduce distractions? How about making just one resolution? We can resolve to stay totally attentive to the current moment. We can resolve to be fully present to whatever is happening right here, right now, to the best of our ability, whenever we can. The more we can stay mindful, the more we can stay with our resolve and commitments towards anything and everything we wish to change in our lives, whether it’s about ourselves, our family, friends, neighbors, or the world at large. Our attentive presence gives us the best opportunity to keep moving in the direction that our sincerity tells us is the right way to go. We can all do this!

It doesn’t matter whether we have a little or a long way to go. It just matters that we practice. - Charlotte Joko Beck, Zen teacher

Our attention to the current moment is the one resolution to end all resolutions. If we did nothing else but stayed fully attentive to the present moment, all day, every day, our lives would be miraculously transformed no matter what we happen to be doing. Of course, it’s difficult! It takes effort and persistence; and patience to help us when we fall short or get discouraged. There are no short cuts for the things truly worth doing and the really meaningful changes worth making. We don’t need short cuts, though! The very idea that we need short cuts is just a story that comes from a world that wants us to stop doing important things, so we will get back onto TikTok and YouTube. If we stay attentive, then we are more likely to notice the pull towards a direction we don’t really want to go, and in that moment of noticing it, we have an opportunity to choose differently. That’s the gift of staying mindful, a gift that keeps on giving. The best gift we could give ourselves for this holiday season!

Wishing everyone a healthy and safe holiday and new year - Allen.


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