At the end of every year, it seems natural to look ahead to the upcoming one and think about how much we want things to improve and be different in some way. As someone who has worked with students for well over a decade, I see the same sentiment at the end of every semester. Next semester will be different, students tell me. I will be more prepared, more organized, get better grades, be nicer to my sister, argue less with my family, and be happier – I’ve heard all these and more.
These resolutions typically come from a place of hope and wishfulness, and the new semester often starts off strong. And then, about eight to ten weeks in (about the same amount of time it takes most people to fall off their New Year’s Resolutions), the ultimate challenge sets in. The novelty of new habits has worn off, or even more likely, things are going so well that it seems unnecessary to maintain the habits that got things going so well in the first place. Without a consistent, concentrated time for reflection and what I like to call “re-grouping” (ie. a time to get back on track) it becomes very easy for the steam to fade and the motivation to come to a standstill.
So, what to do? This time of year we can read an endless number of articles on bringing in the New Year with newer, bigger, better ideals. But, how to make them stick? The Wall St. Journal has a nice piece that gives some solid tips, including creating a “no choice” category where following the rule is mandatory, or working with others and finding a support system. One of my personal favorites is an idea from a fellow Duke alum who has a group of friends who make 12 one month long resolutions and email each other at the beginning of the month stating what they want to focus on. Twelve month-long resolutions is a shorter, more manageable program, and there is a group element of support. Of course, full disclosure: I tried this at the beginning of the year and it didn’t work for me – not that it wouldn’t in the future, it just didn’t this past year. I did, however, make many of my resolutions – just not the month I initially committed to them. Progress, not perfection – and I made a whole lot of progress this year…
Which brings me back to resolutions, or having them. Every day is the opportunity to do something new or different, and focusing on the present has helped so many of the students we work with at Green Ivy make monumental changes. Waiting until the New Year or the beginning of the semester or some other pre-determined date does nothing but winnow a window of opportunity. What can you do today to inch you towards your longer-term vision?
Leave time for reflection. Often, we rush towards wanting a goal without thinking about why we would like something to happen, what went well before for us, and what we would like to do differently. The reflection process is typically the most fundamental part of making a change – it doesn’t have to be long, dark, or burdensome; instead, it simply has to give us the opportunity to think through our past choices and reflect on what we want to be different and why we don’t want it to be so.
Sometimes, it takes a change of scenery. Personally, I wanted to get back into my regular, five to six day a week yoga practice, but was having a hard time getting motivated to go to class. I needed to find a new studio that I looked forward to going to, and it took me nearly the full year to try a place out. But by November, after a month of non-stop traveling that made my ankles swell like kiddie balloons, I found my way back way back to the mat – ironically, the new studio is four blocks away from the old one, and the place just feels different as my regular place of practice. And now that I love the new place, and the new class time, it has become an easy 6:30 AM daily ritual.
Be open to solutions not yet imagined. A year is such a long amount of time, and so much can happen. At the beginning of 2014, I had no idea I would do the amount of travel I did this year for work (Paris, Portugal, Nashville and Dubai were not on the radar in January 2014). Sometimes we are offered opportunities we are not fully aware of that can lead to something new and better and more amazing then we ever imagined.