I used to tell people that I don’t make New Years resolutions. I told myself that, too, but the truth is every year I made a few without telling anyone. Being secretive about them was a way to give myself an out if I didn’t follow through on them.
Over the past few years I’ve gotten a lot better at keeping my resolutions. And sharing the fact that I’ve made them is one reason why. As I thought about what resolutions I would make for this year, the first one that came to mind was strengthening my determination to keep whatever resolutions I made. And for me, basing my resolutions on spiritual intentions is the essential element to maintaining my determination to see my resolutions through.
Most people make New Year’s resolutions based on material concerns, by which I mean physical, mental/emotional, or social interests. Perhaps the most common goals are those associated with our bodies, such as exercising more, eating a healthier diet, or making life-changes aimed at reducing stress. These are all good resolutions. And they become great resolutions when we connect them to an underlying spiritual intention.
Setting a spiritual intention
The first lesson of yoga is that our eternal spiritual identity is not dependent on the temporary material body we inhabit. If that’s the case then you might think I’d dismiss bodily concerns like physical fitness or emotional well-being as mundane objectives.
But if we understand that our minds and bodies are given to us as sacred vehicles for both our own self-realization and to be of service to others, then taking good care of these gifts becomes a spiritual activity. And that’s the magic of a spiritual intention: it transforms an otherwise mundane activity into an integral part of your spiritual life.
Yoga places a higher value on the intention behind an action than on the action itself. And yoga is ultimately a spiritual practice with a spiritual goal. So if we want to make our resolutions part of our yoga practice, we need to base our resolutions on spiritual intentions.
In order to ensure that our intentions are spiritual we need to have a clear understanding of what ‘spiritual’ means and how ‘spiritual’ differs from ‘material’. Yoga wisdom texts make this distinction in terms of three spiritual qualities: permanence, cognizance, and joy.
If the intention of your resolution moves you in the direction of deeper understanding and sustainable happiness, you’re starting with a spiritual intention.
Keeping a resolution requires resolute determination
A resolution is like a seed: the intensity of our determination to follow through after planting the seed will determine whether or not the seed of our resolution takes root. As time wears on, our determination may wear down. So here are six practical steps you can take to support and solidify your resolute determination to see your resolution through:
1. Be specific
Write out your resolution and then think, ‘how can I make this more specific?’ Write in additional details. Then look for the essence of those details and see if you can compress your idea into a simple phrase. Repeat this process until you have a very clear and concise statement that describes precisely what your objective is and why you want to achieve it.
2. Make a plan
Draw yourself a map of how you’ll get from where you are to where you want to be. Break your journey down into as many measurable and achievable steps as possible by working backward from your goal: think of what you need to do before you reach your goal, then what you need to do before you reach that stage, and so on until you get to the first step.
3. Visualize each step
Once you have a plan, think about what the first step looks like, feels like, and sounds like, etc. Engage all of your inner senses in a complete mental and emotional experience of taking that first step toward the fulfillment of your resolution. You can visualize the fulfillment of your resolution, too, but to turn that internal vision into an external reality it’s just as important to visualize the progressive stages of your plan. This isn’t an exercise in magical thinking; it’s an affirmation that progressively molds your mind into a shape that’s conducive for the fulfillment of your resolution. We go where our minds take us so fixing your mind on where you want to go is an essential step in getting there.
4. Re-set your resolution every day
This is the most important step: create a simple daily ritual that re-connects you to your resolution. You can write your resolution out and then read it out loud to yourself every morning. You can make your resolution an offering to the higher purpose you’re serving through your resolution. You can pray for the voice of inner wisdom to guide you along the path of your resolution. By developing your own simple, daily ritual through which you re-commit to your resolution your resolute determination to reach your goal will keep gaining momentum.
5. Allocate time
Decide when you will take the necessary actions and put them on your calendar. When the time comes, obey your calendar. As soon as you start re-scheduling your resolution, it’s as good as gone so don’t give in to the temptation to rationalize a delay. Honor the time you set aside to follow through on your resolution.
6. Make yourself accountable
Share your resolution with friends. Going public with your resolution is a proven psychological tactic to fuel your resolute determination to follow through with your commitment. For spiritual commitments, being part of a spiritual posse – a satsang – is a great way to find strength and support for your commitments to make progress in your spiritual life.
Using the mind to overcome the mind
Going it alone, not giving your resolution time on your schedule, letting your resolution wither from neglect, failing to make a plan, or starting out with vague and unrealistic ideas are some of the reasons why our resolutions can fade into the oblivion in short order. Perhaps the biggest reason is that, however much we think we want to change or do something differently, deep down we think that we can’t succeed, that our resolution is really just wishful thinking. And, sure enough, we go where our minds take us.
Beyond the physical practice, yoga is a kind of mental judo: the art of using the mind to overcome the mind. If we make a daily re-commitment to the pursuit of our worthy goals by remembering why we’re pursuing our goals and meditating on what the next step of our plan looks, sounds, and feels like, we can re-direct the mind so that it takes us to where we want to go rather than to where it wants us to go. As Krishna tells us in the Bhagavad-gita:
“For one who controls the mind, the mind is the best of friends; for one who fails to do so, the mind shall remain the foremost of enemies.” – Bg 6.6
Recruiting the mind to befriend us on our quest to follow through on our resolutions will ensure our resolute determination to succeed. And we can succeed in our recruitment mission by engaging the mind in these six action items. By pursuing a resolution based on a spiritual intention you can make a positive impact on your own life and the lives of others. So try taking these six steps and see if they help you to sustain your resolute determination to reach the goals you’ve set for yourself this year.
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What do you think?
What spiritual resolutions have you made for this year? Please tell me what you hope to achieve, how you think these six steps might work for you, and share any other ideas you may have about how to turn a resolution from wishful thinking to a realized dream.