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  • Writer's pictureGreg Graber

New Year's Resolutions Are for Suckers

There is an old joke about New Year's resolutions that goes something like this, "If you want to find a good parking spot at the local health club, wait until the second week of January." We all know that most New Year's resolutions never come to fruition. In fact, U.S. News & World Report recently estimated that the failure rate for New Year's resolutions is believed to be about 80 percent, and most lose their resolve by mid-February.

Are we suckers for having New Year's resolutions? Perhaps I should clarify this. There is nothing wrong with having resolutions or goals. There is actually something commendable about trying to better ourselves. However, we are suckers if we have a New year's resolution and expect to attain it without designing and implementing a system to support it. Setting any kind of goal and expecting to reach it just out of sheer intrinsic motivation is not realistic. As statistics show, this approach is a destined for failure.

In his outstanding book, Atomic Habits, James Clear makes no bones about it, "Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress." In other words, once we set a goal, we need to make sure we have set up a system that will help us attain it. Ultimately, according to Clear, it is the systems we set that will eventually carry us to success or failure, "You do not rise to the level of goals. You fail to the level of your systems."

I have learned more about the cultivation of habits and their systems through my meditation practice than anything else. Being an "all or nothing" type person, when I first started meditating, I thought the more I could do the better. Foolishly, I would sit for thirty minutes and close my eyes. In doing so, I would peak at the clock every two minutes and try really hard not to think. Anyone who knows anything about meditation knows that this is terrible. I was so worried about the outcome (not thinking), all I could do was think! I learned quickly that being consistent and meditating for a few quality minutes every day was more beneficial than miserably forcing myself to endure a hellish thirty minute session of sumo wrestling with my thoughts. Over time, in an incremental manner, I have been able to add more time to my sessions. As a result, mediation has been a beneficial, healthy habit I have been able to stick with on a daily basis.

Whatever your resolution is, have an incremental approach. If you want to read more, start

by reading a few pages per night. Then after a while, start reading five or ten pages per night. Work your way up to 30 minutes per night or whatever you are comfortable doing. If you want to start running, run from light post to light post. Alternate by walking between every other one. Over time, run a quarter of a mile. Then a half mile.... a mile.... a 5K..... a half marathon. You catch my drift. This incremental approach is a system that will support your growth over time. By being invested in the process in this manner over time, you will be more apt to reach your goal or resolution.

Imagine your goal was to run a marathon, but you had no system in place to get you there, and you have never run any significant distances before. This is how most resolutions are set up- with very little thought or planning. This is why most resolutions are not accomplished. Again, as Clear says, "You fail to the level of your systems."

Being mindful of our environments can also help us succeed in reaching our goals and resolutions. For instance, set up your surroundings for success. If you want to read more at night, place a book on your pillow before you head out to work in the morning. If you desire to run every day after work, put your running shoes and running clothes in a visible place where you will see them first thing when you return home after work. If you want to meditate more, set reminders on your smart phone. To spend less time on your computer at work, set alarms to go off to remind you to get up and walk around or stretch every twenty minutes. Also paste notes or pictures in strategic locations to remind yourself of your goals. For instance, if you want to lose weight, tape a note on the refrigerator that has your desired weight on it. Cut some pictures out of magazines and tape them to your bathroom mirror with images that represent or symbolize what you want to accomplish.

One of the benefits of a mindfulness practice is the cultivation of greater self-awareness. Self-awareness is crucial in the development of habits that can either make or break the systems we have put in place to attain our resolutions or goals. Our habits work in a loop that goes from: CUE to CRAVING to RESPONSE to REWARD. This loop occurs for both good and bad habits. If your self-awareness is strong enough, you can indentify a habit as helpful to your resolution or unhelpful to your resolution. if the habit is good, make the craving attractive. If it is bad, make the craving unattractive. This can be done with some mental effort over time. The eventual goal here is to repeat good habits over and over until they become automatic. In doing so, these good habit will support your systems, and thus, you have a better chance of reaching your objectives.

New Year's Eve is a couple of days away. You have plenty of time to think about what systems you can put in place to support what you want to achieve. Why wait?

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