Urban Mindfulness

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New Year's Resolutions vs. Mindfulness

New Year's Resolutions? 8 Mindfulness Principles Make Them Better

2009 is drawing to a close. Only a few more days left to realize those New Year's Resolutions. Oh, don't you remember? Those aspirations from earlier this year that you wanted to achieve? Well, fear not, regardless of whether or not you realized them (or can even remember what you wanted to do), we all have another opportunity to make or break, fulfill or forget, or propose or postpone a whole slew of resolutions for 2010.

Generally speaking, these aspirational changes are quite helpful and healthy. They guide us to make substantive, meaningful change in our lives. We might decide to get in shape in order to feel better and (hopefully) be able to live longer to spend more time with our family. We might decide to get a new job in order to feel more satisfied at work. Whatever the desired change and motivation, New Year's resolutions provide an opportunity to recognize important personal values and articulate related goals for fulfillment.

So, what does mindfulness have to offer? Is an objective awareness of the present moment with its focus on acceptance applicable to the establishment and pursuit of life-changing actions? Put simply, "no." Mindfulness with its emphasis on experiencing the present as it exists is not too keen on changing it. Unless one of your resolutions is to practice mindfulness or acceptance more regularly in 2010, then the emphasis on being present in the now won't help you realize your goals. Think about it: is mindfulness going to get you to go to the gym or line-up a series of job interviews? Of course not. However, some of the essential qualities of mindfulness can be helpful for you.

In his seminal book, Full Catastrophe Living, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn outlined what he described as the "attitudinal foundations of mindfulness."

Non-judging
Patience
Beginner's Mind
Trust
Non-striving
Acceptance
Letting Go

In addition, I would add "Non-identification" as another aspect of mindfulness. Taken together and applied sensitively to your resolutions, these qualities will help you approach your desired changes in ways that are sensitive, respectful, and supportive of change.

Non-judging
This perspective involves suspending our tendency to evaluate experiences. However, if you've made a resolution for 2010, then it's too late: you've already made a judgment in deciding on something to change. Fortunately, we can adopt a non-judging approach to our resolutions subsequently. We can stop second-guessing our resolutions as good, bad, or "not enough," for example.

Patience
This one is probably obvious. Change typically doesn't happen overnight, and we need to be patient as we try to bring about something new in our lives. Intellectually, we understand this fact, but it's harder to appreciate through actual experience.

Beginner's Mind
This principle refers to the ability to experience the present moment as if it were existing for the very first time, which-of course-it is. You haven't been in this precise time and space until now. For the New Year, it means that these resolutions of ours are brand new. Even if they're something that we've made in the past, we've never had the opportunity to make them in 2010. Thus, we need to approach these resolutions with an attitude of freshness and curiosity. Whatever happened previously is over. All we have is our resolutions manifest in the here-and-now.

Trust
Trust refers to the ability to have faith in our intuitive wisdom as well as the present moment. For our resolutions, it means cultivating the ability to recognize that we'll know how to best approach them. Even if we don't know how to accomplish something, we can be confident in knowing when we don't know, and perhaps seeking some advice or guidance.

Non-striving
This one might seem a bit antithetical to having New Year's resolutions. Aren't they all about striving for something? Sure. However, we can embody our desire for change through gentle persistence as opposed to brute force. There's no need to push hard for realization of our resolutions when a simple nudge or light pressure will suffice.

Acceptance
Just as the present moment needs to be accepted as it exists, so does our relationship to whatever change we're trying to make. We are here, regardless of where we want to be. Telling ourselves that we need or should be someplace else (physically, emotionally, occupationally, etc.) provides little motivation. More often than not, we feel miserable and discouraged as we work towards change. For example, if you've lost one pound, you've lost one pound. This is true regardless of the fact that you want to lose 20 pounds or that it's Week #8 of your new diet and exercise regimen.

Letting Go
We need to abandon our desire for things to be different than how they are? Obviously, this is not relevant to resolutions in which we're actively trying to be different. However, sometimes we hold on to fantasies about our past or future, which make it more difficult to engage the present. For example, reminiscing about how athletic you were in high school is not likely to help you much in getting in shape now. So, we often need to let go of these remembrances and desires in order to better address what's happening for us now.

Non-identification
Mindfulness encourages us to recognize the present moment without becoming too wrapped-up in it personally. Similarly, our self-worth is not dependent on whether or not we succeed or fail in realizing our New Year's Resolutions. If you abandon or forget your resolution, it's okay. You are not a better or worse person. And, if it truly troubles you, you can always try again in the next moment or even wait until next year.

Finally, it's important to recognize that your realization of your New Year's resolutions likely will not happen in an instant. It's not as if you suddenly will lose 20 pounds or instantly land a job. Rather, it will take a series of successive moments as you work towards the change that you seek. Hmm...successive present moments? What can we do with those?

 

Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D., has been practicing, teaching, and writing about mindfulness for over a decade. He maintains a private practice in New York City.

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