As we approach the beginning of a New Year, many of us are starting to think about resolutions. We’re setting intentions for where we want to go in the coming year, thinking about things we want to change about our lives or our behavior, or setting new goals for things we want to achieve.
There’s some understandable skepticism out there about New Year’s resolutions, but I think the annual practice of goal-setting or visioning, whether you call it a resolution or not, can be powerful and activating if we approach it with an evolutionary attitude.
I want to share some principles you can use to make meaningful and effective resolutions, but first I think it’s worth reflecting on the main reasons why a lot of us don’t tend to take resolutions that seriously any more.
First off, it’s become almost cliche to talk about how New Year’s resolutions don’t stick. Even the most passionate plans laid in January are often more or less forgotten by March. We look back at the end of the year and all we see are plans that we never followed through on; and so we become cynical and begin to think that resolutions “just don’t work for me.”
The second reason many people are skeptical about resolutions is unique to the “personal development crowd.” Those of us who have done a lot of work on ourselves, spiritually and psychologically, feel like we’re always engaged in the process of setting goals and working towards achieving them. Because of this, we tend to think that we don’t need something artificial like the beginning of the year to orient ourselves towards growth and development. It’s something we do every day of our lives.
While these might both be valid reasons for a degree of skepticism regarding the whole notion of New Year’s resolutions, there is significant evidence to suggest that they are in facta very transformative tool.There is a tremendous amount of research showing the value of using milestones like the beginning of the year to set goals and focus on the future. Social scientists have now spent a lot of time studying how people can successfully make big, significant life changes, and we’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.
One thing that a lot of this “changeology” research has found is that using key dates on the calendar to focus your efforts, whether they be yearly, monthly, or even weekly, dramatically speeds up your development. Studies have shown, again and again, that people who make resolutions on an important day are much more likely to follow through on them, and tend to get better results.
So here at the dawn of a new year, I want to encourage you to step back and take an evolutionary look at the year ahead.
To support you in that endeavor, I want to offer several different perspectives that will help you to make the most of your resolutions, and give you the best chance of making sure you realize them in the coming year. These are like guideposts that you can use in your approach to setting resolutions to make sure they have the biggest and most transformative impact on your life.
Resolution Guidepost #1: Make it the Best Year Ever
The first resolution guidepost is to think big when setting your goals for the year.
When you have an entire year to work with, it’s possible to move mountains in so many different areas of your life. So, I encourage you to aim high. Set an intention to make this year the biggest, most profound, and significant year of your life so far. If you think about it, is there any reason why this next year shouldn’t be the most meaningful, most transformational, most awakened, most potent, most profound year you’ve ever had?
This might seem grandiose, but if we’re really living the life of an evolutionary, perpetual growth is always our goal. We’re evolution in motion. This means that, ideally, every year should be an improvement over the previous one, which should also have been an improvement over the previous years. So regardless of what area of your life you’re setting a vision for, your aim is to make it better, higher, and more significant in whatever ways that means in that particular context.
If you’re on the older side of the spectrum, you might push back on this idea, saying, “I’m at a point in my life where my years of doing big things were decades ago. I’ve already reached the major milestones of my life and I’m not out trying to make my big mark on the world anymore.”
That’s fine. There’s no single, specific way to have this year be the most profound and significant year of your life. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to impact the most people, make the most money, or make your most creative contribution. Having the “biggest year of your life” might look different depending on where you are in your journey. It might be all of the things I just listed, or it might be none of those things.
It might be something more subtle or spiritual. You might say that this year you’re going to finally let go of all of the smallness or fear that you’ve held on to. Maybe this is the year when you’re going to fully abandon your self concern and begin to deeply trust life. You’re going to let go of the steering wheel and allow yourself to be guided by something greater.
For anyone who would consider themselves to be an evolutionary—a person who is alive, engaged, active, and wanting to participate in the evolution of consciousness—setting a big goal for the year ahead can take many different forms and be in relationship to many different dimensions of our lives. But the key is that it should be big.
Resolution Guidepost #2: Look for the Highest Transformational ROI
At any given moment in our lives, there are hundreds if not thousands of things we could be working on. And we can’t possibly work on all of them. We have to choose to focus on only a handful of evolutionary opportunities in our lives.
So how do we determine which of the myriad possible goals to focus on? The key is to find the resolutions that will give you the best transformational return on your investment. I encourage you to focus on those areas that will have the greatest impact on your life as a whole, which could mean several different things.
Some of these “high ROI resolutions” can be found in the areas where you are stuck. These are the ways in which you feel most out of alignment with the higher trajectory of your life. They often take the form of issues you’ve been struggling with or avoiding for a long time. Getting things on track in these areas can free up tremendous energy that will impact your entire life.
For instance, let’s say you’ve been neglecting your physical fitness and health for a long time. Overall, you’re a very growth-oriented person, but your relationship to physical health seems out of sync with the rest of your life. It’s something you know you need to deal with, but you keep putting it off. There’s no doubt that this lag is impacting your overall well-being in ways you can see, and also in many ways you can’t see.
Even the simple fact of knowing that you’re not dealing with your health creates a drain on your energy and confidence. Because you’ve been unwilling to face this part of yourself, it has an impact on your ability to face other parts of your life that need improvement. So this one simple thing that you’ve been neglecting is in many ways tying up huge amounts of your life energy. If you were to finally take on this one particular issue wholeheartedly, it could change your whole life.
Another example would be some kind of major relationship tension that you’ve been avoiding. You just don’t want to deal with it. You don’t want to address it because you’re not sure what’s going to happen. It’s been lingering for so long that you’re not even aware of how much it constricts the flow in other areas of your life. And you can’t imagine what could be liberated if you were to fully address the relationship tension this year.
Another place to find high ROI resolutions is in those areas that have the greatest potential to bring about a massive change in a particular dimension of your life. It could be a new career opportunity or taking on a new spiritual practice. It’s something that you might have a strong feeling about and intuit that if you were to really go for it, you’d be able to take a major leap.
Big opportunities like this are often lost on us because we are so caught up in all the little projects we’re involved in. To use a baseball metaphor, we’re focused on singles instead of home runs. But there’s something very powerful about focusing on taking a significant leap in a specific dimension because it can create a lot of confidence in your ability to evolve that translates into every area of your life.
Let’s say there’s something that you’ve been feeling particularly called to. You know that if you were to really take it on, it would have an enormous impact, but because it feels so big and overwhelming, it’s been hard to make the time to focus on it. You have so many other commitments that you never seem to give it the necessary attention. But if you gave that one thing serious focus this year and actually moved it forward, it could have an impact so great that it would change your whole life trajectory.
I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve been compelled for years to write a book. It’s one of those important things that I feel I need to do in my life. I have a lot of ideas that I want to get down on paper and share with the world in that form. But, between all of my online teaching commitments and my responsibilities for running a large organization, it’s been hard to carve out the time and focus to write the book.
Recently, it became clear to me that I was never going to end up writing a book if I just kept going with everything I was already committed to. I had to make a big change in order to create the space to bring this next chapter of my work into being. So I made a commitment to start writing the book even amidst all my other responsibilities and projects. And while I’m still in the middle of working to realize that goal, it has unleashed a tremendous amount of creative energy that is now flowing into the rest of my life and work.
So as you consider your resolutions for the year, I encourage you to look for something in your life could have that kind of impact. Think of something that will require a big risk, but also offer a big evolutionary reward if you were to really take it on.
Resolution Guidepost #3: Focus on Awakening
The third guidepost to consider when developing your New Year’s resolution is to make sure that you focus, in part, on things that have the greatest spiritual potential. These are goals that have the biggest potential to awaken and liberate you.
To do this, look for the ways in which you could really let go and step into a much greater depth of self. Challenge yourself to realize a much more profound depth of awakening and really live from a place other than your familiar ego structure.
This category could also include areas where you feel a strong spiritual or evolutionary pull. When you engage in certain practices or activities, do you feel as if the evolutionary impulse is more activated than in other situations? These might be good opportunities for spiritual growth.
These kinds of resolutions could also be directly related to your spiritual practice. Maybe you want to give a lot more to your meditation practice? Or perhaps you want to take the insights you’ve gleaned from meditation and apply them through daily life practice, or what I call “awakened life practices.”
Maybe you’ve tasted the extraordinary power of spiritual practice, but you haven’t fully committed to making it a foundational part of your life because it feels too big, too unknown, too scary, too challenging, or just too much of a time commitment. If you were to really give yourself to the practice, you know that it could have an enormous transformative impact.
This guidepost, in a way, transcends and includes the two previous guideposts. If you’re able to focus on something that will liberate you spiritually, it can open up tremendous potential for growth in every dimension of your life.
In many ways, the spiritual dynamics of who we are create the foundation for our entire life. So if we can focus on our spiritual bottom line and really grow in this dimension, it will lead to all kinds of unexpected evolution in every other aspect of our lives.
I hope that these guideposts provide some support on your quest to harness the power of the new year to set your course for the months ahead. May this next year truly be the most extraordinary year of your life . . . so far!