We only truly live in one house. We can think of our mind, body, and spirit as its frame, furnishings, and features. Unfortunately, while this house is our one true abode, it is also the one we most often neglect. Setting an intention to cultivate and care for our house can support our personal evolution in the New Year ahead.
Making New Year’s resolutions has become something of a cultural convention. One of the challenges we face is keeping those resolutions once we’ve made them. This is because resolutions are something of a dead end. If we think about our resolutions as a platform for lasting change, rather than simply a condition we impose upon ourselves, we come to the idea of New Year’s renovation—tearing down the walls of habit and convention, adding rooms, and rearranging our abode.
When we make a resolution, we make a choice to do something different. The shortfall comes when “different” does not engender actual change. If we think in terms of our house, it suggests putting down a rug instead of refinishing the floors. To that point, if we want to quit smoking we say, “I’m going to quit smoking.” In fact, we might be better served if we said, “I am not a smoker.” In doing this, we are setting an intention that leads to a wholesale lifestyle change, rather than simply imposing a condition upon ourselves—a condition we are ultimately not likely to abide.
Deepak Chopra, in his book The Way of the Wizard, calls this idea “living backwards in time”, which implies living, “as if”, instead of “what if”. In other words, if we start living as if we are not a smoker, we put ourselves into a headspace that is much more likely to succeed than if we were to simply say, “What if I stopped smoking.” In the first case, we are setting an intention that leads to lasting change. In the second, we are simply imposing a condition, rather invoking actual change.
Part of creating lasting change involves understanding our motivation. Change comes from the inside out. If we are making a change for someone or something other than ourselves, it won’t stick because we are not invested. Understanding our motivation also plays into the larger fabric of our renovation. Are we going to lose 20 pounds, or are we going to live a healthier life style, and let that 20 pounds take care of itself? In the first instance we are imposing a condition, and, in the second, we are setting an intention.
Another part of creating lasting change is to be both planful and mindful. Most often, we make resolutions that we haven’t quite thought through. Let’s go back to the example of quitting smoking. Have we considered if we are actually capable of quitting cold turkey, and what that might imply for us, both physically and emotionally? Have we considered alternatives to quitting cold turkey, and which might best serve us?
Once we’ve established a mindful perspective on the change we want to create, we then need a plan. We’ve gotten to, “OK, I’m going to do this…”, but very often we leave off the “How am I going to do this?” Having a thoughtful plan that establishes structure and consistency propels us into a new way of thinking about our circumstances, creating change. Not doing so is the death knell for most all of our resolutions.
Part of why having a thoughtful plan helps us to be successful is that it gives us a frame work for developing a habit. Everything we do is a habit, and, if we want to change, it really comes down to changing our habits. The psychology behind this is called neuroplasticity, and it is the hidden secret behind all lasting change.
Think of our brain like a road map. Over the years we’ve established routes and worn grooves into the various trails. These are habits—patterns of thought and behavior. When we change the way we do something, our old route through the brain becomes dormant, and the new one becomes easier and easier to find, until that route becomes the path of choice. The physical change that occurs when we develop new habits and leave old ones behind is at the heart of neuroplasticity.
By being thoughtful about our resolutions and making a plan, then transforming our resolutions into intentions by living them in the moment, rather than as some future potential, we create the foundation for a successful resolution, and establish the key to lasting change.