It may not come as a surprise to hear that New Year’s resolutions don’t work – at least for more than 90% of those who make them. So if you slip from your ambitious plan, you have lots of company.
You’ll hear a lot of discussion about how to make better resolutions: write them down, be specific, make them realistic. But this doesn’t really address the more fundamental issue.
What we need is the self-discipline to make changes in the way we are living. And most of us are living a feeling-centered life, rather than a purpose-centered life. No matter how skillful we are at making resolutions, this fundamental issue remains. As long as our lives are tossed to and fro by the tides of our feeling states, we remain relatively incapable of doing what we say we will do.
Because whether we do it, depends on how we feel.
In order to make important changes, we need to shift to a more purpose-centered life. Living with more purpose isn’t just about keeping a few New Year’s resolutions. It’s about putting our energy toward what truly matters and making wise and conscious choices about how we use our time.
And it’s about taking action. It really takes a lot of effort to keep our lives well-managed. Most of us would like to get our lives to a place where things are organized and stable, but life itself is working in the opposite direction. Life inherently promotes instability and disorganization. That is life’s job.
I’ve been studying and teaching Japanese Psychology for the past thirty years. Unlike most of Western Psychology, the ideas underlying Naikan, Morita Therapy and Kaizen draw from the wisdom and principles of Eastern Philosophy. There are really four key skills that we can all learn to live a more fulfilling and meaningful life. These skills work alongside the laws of impermanence and the changing nature of life. The skills are:
We must learn to accept much of life on its own terms because much of life is beyond our control. This includes our internal experience (thoughts, feelings), our past, and the behavior of other people. We can become preoccupied with the task of getting life to be the way we want it to be. We overvalue efforts to change our circumstances and undervalue our capacity to accept what we can’t control.
2. Co-existing with Unpleasant Feelings
We have to learn to take action in a constructive and appropriate way even when we don’t feel like it. This is the essence of self-discipline. It means we don’t allow our feelings to direct our life, and, we don’t devote ourselves to trying to create particular feeling states like peace or happiness. We learn to make friends with the feelings that visit us, but we don’t allow ourselves to be distracted from what we are here to do.
Our experience is based on what we pay attention to. Most of us put very little energy into developing skillful attention, but it can change the way we move through our lives as well as the experience we have moment to moment. Too often our attention is on our selves — our feelings, our thoughts, our ideas, our plans and regrets. This inner world is a prison that prevents us from connecting and engaging with the richness and wonder of life around us. My biggest criticism of traditional Western Psychotherapy is that it’s too self-focused.
Our relationships are generally what we most value about our life. But relationships get strained and can often be filled with conflict and stress. The ability to reflect on ourselves is the key to maintaining healthy relationships, as well as cultivating a general sense of gratitude for all we have and for our life itself. Self-reflection often humbles us and softens our hearts to the challenges of others.
To develop these key skills we need to make a commitment to practice. Practice means we are devoted to incorporating these skills into the very fabric of daily life. They become part of our spiritual lives and our excursions to the supermarket and bank as well. Without the development of such skills, New Year’s resolutions have very little value, even if we manage to achieve them.
If we build our lives on a foundation of mindfulness, gratitude, compassion and purpose, then we have a sense of guidance in our lives, with meaning woven through our days. This is inherently fulfilling. We can think about goals and accomplishments for the coming year, but they cannot replace the development of a solid foundation based on sincere and ongoing practice.
Join Gregg Krech for the LIVING ON PURPOSE program which starts Saturday, January 11, 2020. Gregg is the author of numerous books, including The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology and is one of the leading experts in the U.S. on Japanese Psychology.
For more information about the program contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 802-453-4440.
Gregg Krech Author, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-reflection (2002)| Author, A Natural Approach to Mental Wellness (2004, 2011)| Author, A Finger Pointing to the Moon (2000)| Editor, Thirty Thousand Days: A Journal for Purposeful Living (1993-Present)| Director, ToDo Institute (Vermont) (1992-Pr......