Is 2022 the year you finally meditate every day? Or do online yoga sessions three times per week for sure? You might be asking, “What should my New Year’s resolutions even look like in 2022?”
We start the new year full of vigor and enthusiasm, but unfortunately the statistics on resolutions look a little disheartening: Around 80% of positive habit-change resolutions will be given up again by February. It is much easier to imagine making a change than to actually implement it—which is why it’s important to bring some mindful, science-backed strategies to your goals for the year. Before we get into the details of how to do this, I would like to invite us to take a big step back and ask, “Why? Why these resolutions?”
Learning something new, changing, improving, and growing are deep human needs. As babies, we would never crawl and walk if this wonderful curiosity and urge to explore were not innate. Change and growth can evoke deep joy and satisfaction, or we can feel overwhelmed by the pressure to perform and succeed. The difference is in the motivation. Bob Sharples, a meditation teacher from Australia, coined the expression “the subtle aggression of self-improvement.” Behind the desire for self-improvement, there’s often the nagging feeling that we are not good enough the way we are. Not fit enough, not smart enough, not sensitive enough, not [insert your answer here] enough. We are therefore constantly in the process of pulling and pushing ourselves in one direction or the other, or we are at least tinkering with this or that quality, taking aim toward a better version of ourselves.
Change and growth can evoke deep joy and satisfaction, or we can feel overwhelmed by the pressure to perform and succeed. The difference is in the motivation.
This perfect version of us would, of course, already have an inspiring morning routine, complete with lemon water, journaling, meditation and, depending on the type, either a gentle yoga workout or sweaty run. And, of course, we would no longer be so terribly self-critical, but finally full of self-compassion!
But far from being the icing on our personal-achievement cake, compassion for ourselves seems to be a key to far-reaching and lasting change. Studies have shown that self-compassion is linked to healthier behaviors such as more exercise and better nutrition.
The bottom line is that self-compassion unconditionally accepts us as we already are, including all quirks and imperfections. It’s like saying, “I love you just for who you are. But precisely because I love you so much, I want you to quit smoking, exercise regularly (or whatever the change you want).” Or, as psychologist Carl Rogers said: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am then I change.”
We can also call this radical self-acceptance, love.
5 Ways to Gently Invite Change
If you’re feeling ready to let self-compassion fuel your new year’s resolutions, so you can create lasting change, here are five tips to live by this year:
1. Motivate yourself with benevolence rather than criticism
During a meditation, while walking, or in a journal, reflect on why you want a certain behavior change, especially one that you have tried to implement several times without success. Do you want to change because you see how certain behaviors harm you, or at least don’t help you? Or because you see how implementing something would be really beneficial? Those are excellent reasons!
The next step is to turn with curiosity—one of the hallmarks of mindfulness—toward your feelings about the situation as it is. If your attitude is negative, critical, or even disgusted, it’s helpful to work with that feeling first. If you’ve been practicing mindfulness for a while, it will seem very familiar to you. We work with resistance because we know that it usually only makes things worse: What you resist, persists. A systematic practice of self-compassion may be the next step here.
2. Plan for breaks and “failures”
If we encourage ourselves and each other with benevolence, then setbacks and breaks are not only okay, they are also expected. Trying out something new takes courage, discipline, and perseverance. We can expect honest effort from ourselves, but not perfection. If we miss a meditation or exercise session, it’s no big deal. We’ll just be there again next time. Perfectionism is more likely to lead to giving up because you don’t feel up to the pressure. Self-compassion is our partner in the inevitable game of “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.”
3. Don’t rely on willpower
Research shows what we have suspected for a long time: Willpower is not a good strategy for long-term change! Sure, we can will ourselves to do something that we don’t feel like doing in this moment once or even a couple of times—but over longer periods, sheer force of will is unreliable. And even more so when we are stressed. What helps? Make the change so small, so easy, that it feels almost silly to not do it. Instead of deciding to meditate 30 minutes per day, start with 10 minutes. With 5! How about 1 minute? And build from there, once it has become a habit.
4. Ask: If I say “yes” to this, what am I saying “no” to?
We often overlook that new behaviors take up space and time in our already busy lives. Especially if you are a go-getter there is a chance that you tend to just keep adding more things to your life. Let’s say you want to journal for 15 minutes every day. That might not feel like a lot of time, but honestly, where is that time coming from? Are you saying no to something else or just pushing everything else more tightly together? And if so, how does that leave you feeling? Might inviting in more space become a practice in itself for you? Inviting more space in your life can mean saying no more often. It can mean experiencing JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out) instead of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)!
5. Surround yourself with like-minded people
One of the best ways to change your behavior is to surround yourself with like-minded people. Behavior and attitudes rub off! Meditating and exchanging ideas with others is one of the most successful methods for regular meditation practice. To arrange to go jogging with a friend or a group or to sign up for a monthly book club can tip the scales to success—not to mention it can also be a great way to give and receive support with those in your community, strengthening your network of care.
Learn about the mechanics of habit formation and observe them at work in your mind and body. By bringing awareness, and injecting curiosity and kindness into the process, you’ll be able to reevaluate and change your habits.