Establishing New Year’s Intentions with Mindfulness

“For someone seeking a change in their life—to stop doing something destructive, to start doing something healthier, to become more confident, to step into the version of themselves they know they really are—the single best habit to cultivate is mindfulness.”

Sandra Wozniki 

Whether we like it or not, the beginning of a new decade cues our minds to reflect and think about habits we want to change, or new things we want to welcome into our life. If you’re reading this, odds are you want to make positive changes in your life and be the best version of yourself that you can be. However, starting a new year can be an overwhelming time, and the post-holiday slump can be a little disorienting. What day is it anyway? You’re trying to get back into the swing of things, re-establish your regular routine and are probably feeling a little lethargic after all the holiday desserts. Because of all of this, you may be feeling pressured to “better” yourself in the form of sponsored fitness ads with deals to jumpstart your New Years resolutions. It’s a lot.

However, this time doesn’t have to be overwhelming or guilt inducing if you welcome it with a little bit of reflection and mindfulness, and approach it with sustainability in mind. What is it that you wish to accomplish this year? What steps can you make to achieve that goal? What worked and didn’t work in the past for you? How far have you come already? What obstacles may keep you from achieving this goal? How can you make sure that your new habits stick? By establishing your intentions with thoughtful reflection and mindfulness, you’ll be setting yourself up well for a fulfilling journey of personal growth. Here are a few practical steps and ideas to help make your habits stick:

Plan

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.
—Rumi

A perfect way to welcome the new year is to take a minute, slow down and reflect on what went well the previous year, what you’re proud of, and what you can work toward. Mindful has a great practice for welcoming the new year with mindfulness here. After taking this time to breathe and slow down, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is your main, big picture goal? What will bring meaning into your life and others’?
    • For example, “I want to be more present in my life.” Another great thing to do is to right out a list of attitudes you’d like to cultivate and see how they could align with your goal.
  2. What positive things will achieving this goal bring into your life?
  3. What practice(s) will help you achieve this goal? Start Small.
    • Stanford professor BJ Fogg’s research suggests you start with a goal you can realistically achieve. For example, it’s better to start with 5 minutes of meditation each day than to set yourself up for disappointment by trying to be Thich Nhat Hanh everyday. Be careful to not get carried away with unrealistic New Year’s goals that risk failing in mere days because they are too big.

Reflect

  1. Reflect on what your current habits are.
    • What existing habits or mindsets are holding you back?
    • Which new habits will allow you to make the changes you would like to see?

Sustain

For many years, there has been a common myth that it takes 21 days to build a new habit. However, Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, recently published a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology, that determined that it actually takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. Although this recent research can initially seem a little disheartening, at the end of the day, the number of days it takes is really irrelevant. It all starts with a 100% commitment to your goal and strategies to help make that habit stick.

  1. Commit
    •  Make a 100% commitment to building your new habit. Not 99%, 100%. By making this committment, you’ll avoid getting into a cycle of “skipping it just once.” Consistency is King!
  2. Stack Habits
    • Habit expert and author of the best selling novel, Atomic Habits, James Clear, explains that the best ways of establishing habits is by  “stacking” them on top of existing habits.  For example, let’s say your goal is to become more present and relaxed and to do this you’re going to commit to 5 minutes of breath meditation every day. To build this habit you could attach it to a habit you already do everyday: “After I drink my coffee, I’m going to meditate for five minutes.” By doing this you design an obvious cue for your brain and make it much more likely for you to stick with a new behavior because you’re building it into a behavioral pattern you’ve had for years.
  3. Set Up Reminders & Visual Cues
    • It probably seems easy to remember a goal you have for yourself, but it’s also incredibly easy to forget or avoid it, and as we saw with Habit Stacking, our brains work off of cues. In order to encourage your new habits to stick, try setting up your environment for success. For example, if you commit to doing a morning yoga practice everyday, set out your clothes somewhere where you’ll see them first thing in the morning and put a gentle reminder on your laptop that reads “yoga first :)” It sounds silly, but setting up these gentle reminders for yourself can be very effective.
  4. Build a Support network
    • Another strategy to help your new habits stick is to join a community of like-minded people who are working toward the same goals that you are. Find a group of people in your area to practice with or join an app or an online challenge that encourages community and helps you reach your own personal goals. If incorporating a mindfulness practice into your new year is one of your goals, our personal favorite app for this is Insight Timer and our CEO happens to be one of the teachers. Having a strong community and support network, whether it be in person or on the web, is always beneficial for achieving personal growth.

Lastly, when building your new habits into your routine, remember to have our four essential attitudes with you at all times in your journey: gentleness, patience, sense of humor and curiosity. Making changes isn’t an easy task; it takes commitment and time but it’s also entirely attainable.

As our CEO, Rick Breden, says, “there’s only two times to meditate: When you want to and when you don’t.” There will inevitably be days where you don’t want to wake up and do your daily yoga you committed to or a 5-minute breath meditation, but I guarantee if you do it you’ll feel great after, and will be proud of yourself for sticking with your discipline. However, if you do stray from your practice, forgive yourself, learn from whatever held you back in that moment and invite yourself in that present moment to get back on track. After all, as Thich Nhat Hanh says,“The present moment is the only moment available to us and it is the door to all other moments.”

Happy Practicing and Growing!

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