Making New Year’s resolutions is easy enough, but how do you actually keep them? If you’re like most people, by the end of February, your resolutions are all but forgotten.
The experience of breaking your New Year’s resolutions can be a frustrating one, so how can you make sure that 2015’s resolutions are different? Here are three tips inspired by Kadampa Buddhist teachings for making sure that you keep your resolutions.
1. Don’t set your intention once; set your intention day after day.
When we are gung-ho to keep our resolutions on January 1, we have a very strong intention to do whatever we said we were going to do — meditate every day, go to the gym, read more instead of watching television, etc. As long as that strong intention is there, we keep our resolution. We run into problems when our intention begins to wane.
According to Kadampa Buddhism, intention is a mental factor, which means a part of our state of mind in any given moment. Think about it: In any given moment, you have an intention to do SOMETHING, even if that something is to sit on the couch and watch TV. When your intention changes, your actions change. For example, you have an intention to sit on the couch and watch TV until you develop the intention to get up and get something to drink from the kitchen.
Your actions of body, speech, and mind always follow the mental factor intention. “Resolutions” and “intentions” are essentially synonyms. However, it’s important to recognize that intention is present in the mind every moment and constantly changing. When it comes to keeping our New Year’s resolutions, we need to learn to be aware of our intentions and learn how to control them. We don’t set a resolution or intention one time and then never revisit it; we need to keep setting our intention over and over again — day after day and moment after moment.
2. Inspire yourself by remembering the benefits of keeping your resolution and the faults of not keeping it.
We all do what we want to do. If we want to meditate, we’ll meditate; if we’d rather sit on the couch, we’ll sit on the couch. One reason we don’t keep our good habits is that our bad habits seem more attractive. Eating a candy bar seems more attractive than eating a salad, for instance.
We need to want to keep our resolutions. How do we do that? We remind ourselves of the benefits of keeping our resolutions and the disadvantages of not keeping them. When it comes to meditation, for example, we inspire ourselves by remembering that meditation helps us keep a peaceful mind, gives us a constructive way to deal with challenging situations, helps us to become more loving, compassionate, and wise. The disadvantages of avoiding our meditation practice include a lack of mental peace, having a shorter fuse, and less awareness about what’s happening in our mind. Use the benefit that inspires you the most to help you keep your intention to maintain your New Year’s resolution strong.
When you choose your New Year’s resolutions, make sure that you stretch but you don’t push. A New Year’s resolution that’s a “stretch” means it’s a resolution that will be challenging for you and will help you grow, but is still attainable. A New Year’s resolution that’s a “push” is so ambitious that it’s not realistic for you to keep up with.
As Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says in his masterful book Joyful Path of Good Fortune on page 236,
We have to be skilful and practice within our capabilities… If we try to force ourself to overcome all our bad habits at once we shall become anxious and then depressed… we should always practice in moderation, allowing our mind to remain joyful and relaxed. Then our meditation will work, our mind will become clearer, and our memory will improve.
So how do you know what “moderation” is for you? Sorry, but you’ll have to figure that one out for yourself. Without judging yourself or being hard on yourself, ask yourself honestly, “Where am I really at, and what is the ‘next step’ that I need to take in my personal or spiritual growth?”
For example, maybe you want to start meditating but you’ve never meditated before in your life. A “stretch” for you might be meditating for ten minutes per day, five days per week. A “push” for you might be trying to meditate for a half an hour, seven days per week.
Choose the resolution that matches where you’re actually at.
What tips do you have?
Has your own practice of Buddhism and meditation given you the tools you need for keeping your New Year’s resolutions? (Or even your middle-of-the-year resolutions?) Tell us about your own Buddhist-inspired tips in the comments section below.