“The future of our nation causes Americans more stress than any other topic.”
We all do it. I thought I’d do it earlier this year. A friend of mine did it last week. Come January 1, as we say farewell to 2016 and get set to embark on a new year, most of us will be making a few promises to ourselves: thou shalt get more exercise, thou shalt eat healthier, thou shalt drink a little less wine, etc.
New Year’s resolutions aren’t like ordinary goals. They have a far more powerful effect on our psyche because the end of one year and the start of another symbolizes new beginnings, a new chapter, and another chance to achieve the things we’ve always dreamt of. (Or perhaps do away with a few unhelpful habits we’ve developed.)
So why should mindfulness be the first resolution on your list?
Ever looked at your list and realized it’s pretty much the same every year? We all yearn for better health, more happiness and improved wellbeing. If only I lost a few pounds, if only I went out more, if only I exercised more … then I would be happy. Would you really? Science has shown the benefits of mindfulness extend not only to improved well-being, mental and physical health, better sleep, reduced stress … but also to an improved level of happiness.
No sooner have we set resolutions and announced them on social media platforms, do we find ourselves finding reasons to give them up. A couple of long work days and we miss the gym, a stressful week and our healthy eating plan starts to slip. Stress triggers automatic behavior, routine habits we have established over years that have become familiar and safe. We rarely even notice we are doing it. Mindfulness helps us to develop an awareness of our internal state and the feelings that are driving our behavior. It allows us the space and time to sit with difficult feelings and make deliberate choices toward more helpful behavior.
Our minds have a preference for complete, whole outcomes. An hour feels better than 57 minutes. A week sounds nicer than four days. We strive for perfectionism. By thinking in this way though we are automatically setting ourselves up for failure. Research shows that 54 percent of people fail to commit to their New Year resolutions past six months. The truth is life happens. Reasons beyond our control can get in the way, and despite our biggest efforts, we cannot possibly fulfill our commitment. This does not make us failures—it makes us normal. Research shows it takes as long as four months to change a behavior, so are we really failures if we miss the odd gym session or eat the occasional cookie? Mindfulness teaches us acceptance and letting go. Simply accept, and commit to moving forward.
We want it and we want it now. With more pressure, technology, competition and activity in the world we can very quickly get consumed in the everyday race from one thing to another without stopping to think. Mindfulness teaches us to slow down our body and mind so we can actually experience the things we do, and at a pace we can enjoy.
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. This alters our mindset and perspective on things making us want more structure and control. As a result, we also tend to phrase things negatively and place too much focus on negative behaviors. But what happens when you try so hard to not do something? It becomes the only thing you think about doing. Mindfulness helps to focus on the positive and what you will gain from achieving your goals. What do you want to do? How do you want to think, feel and behave? What will these things give you? Mindfulness connects us to the bigger picture and our greater sense of self. Seek pleasure in the simple things and set resolutions based on what you will gain, not what you hope to lose.
It’s not that our goals are unachievable; we simply aren’t starting from the right place to succeed. To achieve anything we need to be aware. Only with awareness can we effectively manage our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to consciously move toward our goals. The benefits are also proven for body and mind, from improved sleep and reduced stress, to better relationships and communication—and all from the comfort of our own homes. Not only that but beginning a meditation practice is free and can be integrated into any of our daily activities like cooking, cleaning, walking or gardening. The simple act of being present with what you are doing can soon become a way of being.
The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.