How to keep your New Year's resolution? The simple answer is: resolve to do something nice! Something you enjoy and value... then (in theory, at least) keeping your New Year's resolution should be easy!
But even when we enjoy things, it's not always easy to do them. Take doing exercise. "I feel so much better for it!” Or arriving places on time. “It’s so great not to rush!” Or whatever it is that we know we’ll enjoy, but don’t quite manage. Does knowing it’s good actually help us to do it?
How easy I find it to be wise in theory! So to cover the gap between what I want to happen, and what really happens, I make my resolutions.
For New Year's resolutions bring an enticing sense of hope. With a resolution, we pay tribute to the ever-present possibility that we can grow, or change, or move forward in some new way. It's our chance for a fresh start.
But why a resolution? Couldn't we just set out an intention, make a wish, express a hope... what is it about resolutions that are so appealing?
A resolution brings something more. It presents a challenge. Can we pit our resolve against an aspect of ourselves that we find difficult - and win?! After all, it's really important to keep resolutions. Knowing we can rely on ourselves is no small feat. By making and keeping resolutions, vital inner resources grow: trust, reliability, faith in our own abilities and judgements.
But for all their appeal, it's no secret that resolutions can be difficult to keep. And no wonder. They are, in fact, quite complex agreements with ourselves - negotiations between a part of us that wants to do something, and a part of us that doesn't.
When we struggle to keep our resolutions, it's often because we get stuck between the part of us that 'knows best' (our inner teacher, counsellor, advisor or educator); and another part of us, which just does what it wants anyway.
For those among you who love their children's tales, it's a case of Badger and Toad.
Getting lost inside a negotiation
At one moment, we have a water-tight case for the resolution itself, backed up by a store of sage advice, self-admonishments and wise warnings, plus a firm conviction to do that particular thing. But later, we turn into someone quite different - someone doing the very thing our 'wiser self' disapproves! This 'me' can have a very different perspective; a very different set of wishes, wants and impulses.
When this happens, it means we've got lost inside the negotiation. At one moment, we identify and merge with those 'wise' voices (we become Badger). At another, we merge and identify with something else; perhaps a more spontaneous, go-with-the-flow, freedom-loving version of ourselves, which wants to bask in ease and comfort, or to live life to the full in every moment (now we're Toad).
It's not so easy to see this happening. Taking sides with one or other aspect is so common. We do this especially with our more articulate or conscious voices which want to guide us in positive and helpful directions. Why wouldn't we identify ourselves with those?
A widening split
When we get lost inside an inner negotiation, we introduce a split. It's a split between those bits of us that make the resolutions for lots of good reasons, and those bits which don't fall into line. When we take sides, we side-line the parts of us we don't like. We're often predisposed to see one part of us as 'right' and the other 'wrong'. This means we're setting an agenda before the negotiation even begins. Pre-determined outcomes are the anathema of true negotiation.
The split widens if we later break our resolutions. Then, we're likely to feel the wrath of our inner critics as we judge ourselves for failing to heed our own good advice; or we may feel cross and resentful with ourselves for imposing the resolution in the first place.
In this way, our inner worlds can feel quite harsh.
Luckily, help is at hand. It's our own inner mediator, able to hear all the many-textured pulls and tugs we feel within us. Curiously, despite our various conflicting selves, our inner mediator can understand and empathise with all our different needs. As long as you are no longer taking sides, the very best person to understand you - is you!
And as with any mediation, there are needs on both sides of the inner table.
Some needs are easy to see. We probably want to improve thing; to increase our health, confidence, motivation, the wellbeing and happiness of those around us... Look at your own resolutions. What would they bring if you fulfilled them perfectly?
But before we set a course for improvement, our inner mediator needs more information. There are other needs present too. Whydon't we get to the gym? Why are we always late? These needs may be harder to discover. Yet in every action, there is something that we want, something it brings us - or we wouldn't do it.
So we need to find the good reasons we act as we do; to re-frame what's 'bad' in terms of real human needs. It's not about making excuses. The kindest approach is the most effective - to listen beyond self-judgement or criticism.
To make a successful New Year's resolution, we need to keep all our needs in mind - to take account of them all. As we expand to encompass even those parts of ourselves we don't like, we begin to hear their voices, and to listen with warmth and understanding to their perspectives. This brings natural kindness.
That's when our New Year's resolutions bring more than we bargained for. Now, by simply making our New Year's resolution, we grow!