One of the main reasons that we don’t keep our resolutions is that we break them. Bear with me, I know this sounds ridiculously obvious, but break it down…
To take an example at random. (Well almost.) Say you planned to get up ten minutes earlier to meditate, every day, in 2015. You manage it the first week – good going! Only then, one night, you have a work party that you really need to stay late for. The next day you wake up a bit groggy and miss your session. Maybe there’s some self-recrimination. You blame yourself but you resolve again to make it tomorrow.
Only when tomorrow comes, for some reason, you end up hitting the snooze button and sleeping right through that time you’d set aside. You can’t meditate now without making yourself late for work. You don’t know how it happened, but somehow it just did.
At some point after that, in your mind, the whole resolution starts to seem like a lost cause. Something that perhaps you think about guiltily from time to time, but after a while, do your best to avoid thinking about altogether. Because in the end, you tell yourself, you’re not the kind of person who gets up and meditates. It was a nice idea, but in practice, it’s just not you.
But let’s try and look clearly at this: why have you given up exactly? Ok, you missed a couple of days, maybe even a week, but at this point there are still another 49 whole weeks left in the year. Plenty of time to turn things around. So, why this tendency to dismiss the work that you’ve done, and let a few days influence your whole outlook? I think there’s two ways of looking at this, if we want to defuse your excuse – and this is the Anti-Excuse Project after all.
The first is simply scientific. Research shows that it takes about 66 days to form a habit. That’s from a study with 82 participants trying to form a time-related habit, like your morning meditation. 66 days. That’s more than two months!
So I think part of the problem is considering this as a ‘new year’s resolution’ at all. To stand any chance of keeping it, it should really be your ‘first quarter-year resolution.’ Give yourself time to establish this new pattern of behaviour and be realistic about the timeframe.
The second is an idea that will be familiar to meditators everywhere. Perfectionism – that sense that if we can’t do it perfectly we can’t do it at all. It’s not only unhelpful, it’s not even accurate. There is no such thing as good or bad meditation. There is simply awareness or non-awareness. To begin with our attention and awareness is less stable. As we practice, over time, it becomes more stable. So let go of any judgements about your meditation being good enough or not. Simply sitting down to practise is the thing to focus on. The mind will do it’s own thing, what it does is not so important, it’s more about how you react to it.
The same is true of our resolutions. Of course we’ll miss a session here and there and naturally we’ll have times when we don’t feel as though it has gone as planned. These things are unavoidable. It is how we react to these situations that is important. By missing a session, you’re not spoiling something perfect, you’re just being human. The secret, just as in meditation, is to gently return to the object you had in mind, without judgement or regret.