Stay on Track With Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Mindfulness and Compassion

Are you afraid of falling off the wagon? Here’s how you can pick up and start again.

Fresh starts, like a new year are often used as the motivation for new habits and positive changes. However sustaining that motivation comes with its own set of challenges. For many people, the New Year’s resolutions are inspired by the wellness industry, which provides us with endless reminders to take care of our health and fix our implied brokenness. More often than not, the motivation for self-improvement comes with a tinge of aggression. There’s an implicit assumption that you are flawed and  need correction. Realistically, if this is where the motivation to create positive change comes from, the chances that any change you made will stick is very slim.

Start where you are and to use tools that you might not even realize you already have.

If your motivation to keep up with your resolutions is waning so early in the new year, mindfulness and compassion can help you reconnect to the deeper intention and purpose behind the original resolution.

There are a number of ways you can put mindfulness and compassion into action to help you get back on track:

1) Notice going off track

Awareness and familiarization with patterns of the mind is a main goal of several types of meditation, including Mindfulness. The more you can cultivate fine-tuned awareness of your thinking process, the more you will be able to address the issue of going off track. Practicing mindfulness means being willing to see our inner processes in a non-judgmental light. This includes being more aware of our own less-than-desirable tendencies, because these are the ones that derail us from our best intentions.

If I am really honest with myself, having sugar and sweets in the house is a big challenge because they are highly tempting for me.  I would prefer to think that I am always strong enough to resist temptation, - even when sweets are in my vicinity -, but I end up using some loophole , such as “its okay this one time“ to justify my lapse. Mindfulness helps me slow down to actually see that loophole in operation. Once I see it, I feel obligated to at least try to correct my course of action. So whatever action follows is more fully conscious.

2) Plan for going off track

The more honest we are with ourselves the more choices we have: In my case, I had the choice to either beat myself up for not having enough willpower, or simply remove temptations. It is easier to get back on track when we acknowledge imperfection as part of being human. Lapses in ‘‘willpower’  happen in the context of a specific environment and set of circumstances.

Treat your resolve like an experiment: Test out what environmental conditions and specific circumstances make it easier for you to follow through and stick with it. Use your willpower to adjust your surroundings and circumstances to make things easier. If it’s easier to follow through on exercise when you are scheduled  with a friend or personal trainer, then use your willpower to schedule that. If it’s easier to follow through on meditation in the morning, then use your willpower to go to bed early enough so you are rested and can wake up for your morning meditation practice.

3) Try not to criticize yourself for lapses.   

We are wired for failure when it comes to establishing long term good habits. Evolution designed us to be really good at seeking immediate rewards rather than holding out for long term payoffs. Procreating, staying safe and eating well enough, practically speaking, do not require the fortitude of mind to resist temptation or engage in long term planning. But did you know, struggling does not mean you’re failing? And if you do have a lapse, self criticism is likely to defeat you even faster?

In one study by researchers at Duke University, college students were presented with a choice between tempting candies or a healthy vegetable snack. Before being presented with the snacks, the experimenters gave instructions to half the group to not be too hard on themselves, to appreciate that everyone goes off track sometimes and to just try their best. The participants that were not given these instructions ate almost twice as much candy. In the experimental condition, the instructions to NOT be too hard on themselves meant they were better able to moderate consumption and less likely to throw in the towel.

4) Acknowledge the discomfort and challenge.

Lasting changes almost always involve some amount of discomfort and challenge. Developing a capacity to ride it out is part of mindfulness and compassion. Sometimes we want to run and hide from the discomfort;  perhaps because we want to think we can “do it already” or that we are already good at it. When I look at all the advice coming from the wellness industry, I personally feel some degree of guilt or shame because I haven't already figured out my sugar addiction. The guilt comes from knowing that the availability of information and education about how to overcome this addiction should have helped to set the conditions of change for me. Therefore, if I have all the information and still struggle with this issue or haven't made the change, then the problem is with me.

In reality, we need more than information and education to make a change. We also need to be able to hold the feelings of discomfort and distress with compassion. Acknowledging, noting, labeling, and clearly seeing, are skills that develop with mindfulness and support compassionate holding while transformations occurs.

5) Keep the direction: Reconnect to intentions and values behind the resolution.

Use some self appreciation to remember the positive reasons you chose your specific resolution and how those reasons connect to your bigger life mission. Review and reconnect with the value proposition behind the intention. Loving kindness practices can help you connect to things that you like about others and yourself. This is more motivating than the criticism and self flagellation.

Something I appreciate about myself is having positive energy to offer to my friends and family. When I resolve reducing or managing my sugar cravings, it helps if it comes from a place of not wanting to have sugar crashes because it  negatively affects the energy in my relationship with friends and family. If I do fall off track - which I have and most certainly will again, all will not be lost. I can still find other ways to offer positivity for the relationships in my life. This way I will build my strength back up again.

Learn More About How to Be More Mindful & Compassionate

Practicing mindfulness and compassion not only leads to a greater feeling of wellbeing, but it also helps you to get motivated and stay self-disciplined with your best resolutions. If you’d like more easy-to-action exercises to increase your ability to be mindful and compassionate—and experience all the benefits that these ways of being offer—sign up for my quarterly emails, or follow me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin for day-to-day inspirations.