The tide of the old year is ebbing, and the new one is rolling in. It is time, once again, for New Year’s resolutions: the best opportunity to rid yourself of those habits you know to be self-destructive, and to develop those that you know will improve your life.
Paramhansa Yogananda regularly wrote his students at this time of year, encouraging, supporting and strengthening them in their resolutions. Here is an excerpt from a 1937 letter:
Take all the salvaged treasures of good experiences from the sea of past experience and use them to buy new accomplishments in the New Year. In the garden of the New Year culture the seeds of well-planned new activities until they grow into fragrant flowering plants of diverse successes. Let every day in the New Year become a step upward on the ladder of your Self-realization. Make every day of the New Year a better day than the previous one for greater effort to succeed in business, family happiness, and increasing the ever-new joy-contact of God in meditation. The old year has gone, but the New Year is full of treasures for you to use.
The real key is to nurture a new resolution long enough for it to grow into a “fragrant flowering plant.” This is where most people fail, and why you find those springtime ads that read, “Treadmill, nearly new, used only twice. Half price.”
We were told a joke by a doctor friend: A man comes to a doctor complaining about pain in his body. “Doctor, it hurts when I touch my knee. It hurts when I touch my elbow, or my jaw, or my forehead.” After an examination, the doctor says, “Your knee is fine, your elbow is fine, and so are your jaw and forehead. The problem is that you have a broken finger.”
So often, we neglect the underlying cause. The difficulty doesn’t lie with not exercising, or eating too much sugar, or not meditating enough. The problem lies with our will power: the creator and destroyer of habits. If it breaks easily, it is the finger that causes the pain in our life. When we strengthen it, we begin to fix all our other, more superficial problems. So, how do we bolster our will power? Here are five key ways:
- Take on only one or two things at a time, those that you really want to accomplish. I would suggest that you choose one physical habit, let’s say exercise, and one spiritual habit, such as meditation.
- Translate a vague resolution into a very specific action item: “I will walk (or meditate) for 45 minutes every morning.”
- Most importantly, stay with it long enough for the old habit to fall away and a new habit to form. Don’t allow yourself any “wiggle room” for at least one month.
- Find a partner who is trying to accomplish the same thing. You will help each other through the inevitable low points.
- Pray to God and Gurus to add their support to your good efforts.
Finally, remember to have fun with life. Will power doesn’t need to be grim. Rather, let it be a joyful flow of energy helping to accomplish your chosen goals. As Swami Kriyananda says, “Joy is the solution, not the reward.” This would be a good motto for the new year.