Most of us have been there. We begin a New Year brimming with good intentions about things we plan to start (or stop) to help us lead a healthier and happier life. We tell our loved ones about our aims or declare them on social media, and we enthusiastically kick them off. Everything starts well. But over the following weeks or months, our new habits start to slip and we return to our old ways of doing things. Fast forward to the turn of the following year: we do the same thing again.
But what if we could commit to a single resolution that could help us achieve all of our intentions? If practicing mindfulness and meditation went to the top of our list of New Year goals, we could enjoy benefits like reduced stress and increased focus that can help us to tackle any challenge with a clearer, calmer mind. And, perhaps most importantly, we can find a sense of natural confidence and fulfillment that means that next year, we may not have to make any resolutions at all.
Mindfulness can help us achieve multiple goals
Adopting a new habit takes patience, and there’s no such thing as perfection
Try 7 meditations to have a more mindful New Year
The New Year is a great time for fresh starts and new beginnings, and setting intentions or resolutions can be a powerful tool to help us make desired changes. But often the difficulty with New Year goals is our desire for quick fixes, the boredom that the mind can create, and the common struggle to change our ways. Numerous sources tell us that around 80% of resolutions have been dropped by February. So what can we do to turn that statistic on its head?
Well, we could use tools like meditation and mindfulness to help us cultivate conditions in the mind to approach any situation with more openness, patience, and clarity. Once we’re clear on the reason underpinning our goal, it’s much easier to stay motivated. Beyond that, by sitting with the mind when we meditate, we can start to understand its behavior. This allows us to change how we react to thoughts about the progress we’re making with our resolutions.
For example, we might notice ourselves saying, “This is taking too long.” If we’ve learned to notice when and how frustration or impatience arises, like we do during meditation, we might step back from the frustration in everyday situations, pause, and ask ourselves if we believe this to be true — and maybe the resulting answer will motivate us to not give up. We might ask: “Well, is it really taking too long or is this simply my impatience speaking up? Is this goal realistic for me right now? If it isn’t, how might I adjust it to something within my reach?” Meditation teaches us not to buy into snap emotions, and it shows us how to turn a reaction into a response, to ourselves and to others.
Research suggests that one of the best ways to sustain our resolutions is to set realistic goals, ones that are well-defined and achievable. This way, we’re not overwhelmed and easily defeated by the task we set ourselves. Pair this practical strategy with the mindfulness teaching of taking things moment by moment, day by day, free of judgment, and we can start to see the drip, drip, drip effect of incremental changes building over time. It’s an approach that improves our prospects of sticking with the healthy habits we promise ourselves every January 1.
Here are 5 reasons why committing to a meditation and mindfulness practice is among the best New Year’s resolution ideas.
Whether it’s exercising more or taking up a new hobby, most of our resolutions have similar goals at their core: improving our health, happiness, and well-being. The pursuit of happiness is one of life’s fundamental quests. But as we set ourselves new targets for the year ahead, it’s worth considering where and how we’re searching for happiness, and whether we’re looking in the right place. As former Buddhist monk and Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe puts it, “To seek happiness is natural. But to look for it outside of ourselves, as though it is dependent on something in the future, is one sure way to never find it.”
True happiness is already within us all, and we learn to unlock it through meditation. In fact, one study showed that after just 10 days of Headspace, people reported increased happiness and substantially fewer negative emotions compared to the average person. When we sit with the mind, we see how its busyness — a preoccupation with thoughts, emotions, and storylines that consume us — is the layer obscuring the contentment that lies beneath. Once we learn to allow thoughts and feelings to come and go, we’re cultivating a mind that’s calmer, clearer, and more compassionate. And these are the best conditions for happiness to arise.
As soon as we’ve set resolutions, life can get in the way and we start finding reasons to give them up. A couple of long work days and we skip our self-care plans, a stressful week and our healthy eating plans start to slip. Stress can trigger a return to habitual behavior, the routines we established over the years that have become familiar and safe. Sometimes, we don’t even notice we are doing it. But mindfulness helps us to constantly check in with ourselves. That’s how we develop an awareness of our internal state and the feelings that are driving our behavior.
When we make time to meditate, we find the spaciousness to observe how the mind is reacting or responding to what we’ve committed to. This insight allows us to make informed choices towards more helpful behavior. Studies using MRI scans have shown a regular meditation practice can shrink the amygdala, a part of the brain deeply involved in our response to stress and to emotions like fear, which helps us respond in a more measured manner to stressful situations. What’s more, committing to a meditation practice is shown to decrease stress. One study found that 30 days of daily Headspace resulted in a 12% decrease in stress in medical students.
By striving for perfection, we’re automatically setting ourselves up for failure. The truth is that, simply, life happens. Reasons beyond our control can get in the way, and despite our biggest efforts, we don’t always fulfill those resolutions we declared exactly as we had planned. This doesn’t make us failures — it makes us normal. And it doesn’t mean all is lost.
Meditation and mindfulness is a practice in sitting with uncertainty, detached from outcome. By anchoring ourselves to the present, taking each meditation session breath by breath, we see how unexpected thoughts can arise out of nowhere … and then we’re shown how to let them go. It’s a metaphor for life: each moment, like each breath, can bring something new and unexpected. Accepting this rhythm of life is accepting uncertainty.
Also keep in mind that it can take weeks or even months to form a habit. But we can set up the best conditions to stick to a new routine. If we’re too hard on ourselves, it will be detrimental to our own progress. The more we meditate, the kinder and gentler we are to ourselves. We accept imperfection and instead learn to go with the flow without any sense of inner judgment.
The majority of our goals and resolutions tend to be driven by our desire to stop doing something. We also tend to set resolutions at the end of a few weeks of festive indulgence and chaos. As a result, we can phrase things negatively and place too much focus on ending negative behaviors. But meditation can help shift our perspective: research shows 10 days of Headspace results in increased positivity.
When we unite mindfulness and New Year’s resolutions, we can focus on what we will gain, like better health and happiness and more pleasure from the simple things in life, not what we hope to lose. We might try loving-kindness meditation, for example, in which we first cultivate a sense of compassion towards ourselves, before directing that intention at others. After a while, we might notice more ease in our relationships and an increased sense of gratitude help us develop a lighter, more optimistic disposition.
It’s not that our goals are unachievable; but sometimes our minds are not best prepared to succeed. With awareness — something we develop through regular meditation — we effectively manage our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to consciously move toward our goals. A healthy mind — one that’s calmer, clearer, and more reactive — is less prone to the emotional highs and lows that can accompany taking on a challenge. There are other benefits, too, including reduced stress, improved focus, and increased resilience, which can all help us move towards our targets.
Looking for more meditations to help with New Year’s resolutions? The Headspace app offers members several courses and single meditations to help each of us stick with it and stay on track, including:
Am I Making Progress? – single meditation. So long as you show up, you’re on the right path.
Self-Compassion course. Practice treating yourself with unconditional kindness.
Approaching Change single meditation. Climb the mountain. Your mind is at the top.
Mindful Eating course. Become more aware of your relationship with food.
Coping with Cravings course. Create the conditions for healthy change.
Happiness course. Develop a more playful attitude towards life.
Finding Focus course. Get familiar with a relaxed, precise kind of focus.
Like all new habits, training the mind takes time, patience and, most importantly, self-compassion. But by making meditation and mindfulness our New Year’s resolution, we’re creating the right internal environment for us to achieve many of our goals in the 12 months ahead and beyond.