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Tactics of Resolution

December 31, 2012
'I could sleep' by Henry M. Diaz via Flickr.com

‘I could sleep’ by Henry M. Diaz via Flickr.com

I make the same resolutions every year.  In fact, I make the same resolutions every month, every week, and every day no matter what the calendar says.  I keep making them over and over because I have such trouble keeping them.  Like most difficult things, they’re fairly simple:

  1. Get up on time
  2. Exercise every day
  3. Eat healthy
  4. Meditate every day

I’ve learned more about how clever my mind can be about getting out of these tasks than about what it actually means to accomplish them.

For example, there’s always the “Start Fresh” tactic.  I’ll get a fresh start next week or next month or after finals or whatever other arbitrary turning point which is suitably distant in the future.  It’s never today or even tomorrow.  No, right now I’m too busy, otherwise I wouldn’t need to start fresh, right?  The New Year’s Resolution is just the ultimate fresh start. (Despite that, I am joining Wildmind’s 100 day meditation challenge starting on New Year’s Day.  I’ll report how it goes.)

Then there’s the “Why Bother?” tactic.  I haven’t exercised all week, why bother now? Just one set up push-ups won’t do me any good.  I’ll start fresh next week.  See how that works?

And there’s the “I Deserve a Reward” tactic.  I just wrote three papers and studied for a tough exam, I deserve a break.  And the “I’ll Make Up For It” tactic.  I’ll meditate an extra ten minutes tomorrow to make up for skipping today.  And the “More Important Thing” tactic and the “I Don’t Have To” tactic and the “You Can’t Make Me” tactic and the “I’m On Vacation” tactic and the “Well, If He’s Not Going To…” tactic.  Really, the list is endless.

But none of these tactics are as effective as the “Just Drop It” tactic.  Whatever the excuse is, just drop it.  Don’t chastise yourself, don’t feel bad about it, don’t resent it, just drop it.  Thump!  Like a scalding hot potato.  And don’t pick it up again!  It’s a self-heating potato; it’ll never cool off enough to become useful.  Just walk away.  This is a tactic of non-attachment to thoughts and views adapted from the Buddhist teachings.  In addition, there’s the “Now” tactic.  No, not later, now.  No, not tomorrow, now.  I can always start fresh, but only if I start now.  There is no later, period, ever, only now.  This is a present moment tactic also learned from the Dharma.

None of these resolutions are harsh or uncompromising. (I get a one day “freebie” each week.) They’re just fiendishly difficult.  That’s why I keep making them.  That’s why they’re resolutions, not habits.  I want to turn them into habits.  I want to be uncompromising because it would never occur to me not to do them.  But they’re hard, really hard, at least for me.

Luckily, they’re also self-reinforcing.  When I eat healthy, I feel good exercising.  When I exercise, I get good sleep.  When I get good sleep, I feel level-headed and it’s easier to meditate.  And when I meditate, I feel more focused, have more willpower, and I eat better.

I have two great challenges that get in the way of this cycle: 1) busy-ness and 2) irregularity.  First, I’m frequently busy.  I make myself busy.  That makes it easy to tell myself I’m too busy to bother with these resolutions.  But these resolutions are part of my self-care regimen.  So if I want to stay well enough to remain busy, I’d better stick with them.

Second, I have an irregular schedule.  Some days I work, some days I go to class, some days I do neither, some days I come home early, some days I stay out late, and this changes drastically every four months.  I haven’t had a “regular” schedule for about ten years.  Psychologists (and dedicated meditators) says it’s easiest to make habits when you keep a regular schedule.  So part of my resolution to try to keep a somewhat regular schedule is to get up on time, whether I have to go to work/class  or not.  As for meditation, I do that before sleep, which is usually about the same time each day if I’m getting up on time.  Eating right is whenever I eat, so that just leaves exercise catch as catch can – and I usually can, if I try.

I’m not alone in the making of resolutions.  In September, Bodhipaksa over at Wildmind made a resolution to become a “rock solid” meditator.

I really admire those few people I know who can honestly say they’ve been meditating for 10 or 20 years, and that they’ve never missed a day. I’ve been meditating for 30 years, but I’ve never been able to attain that kind of regularity. Sure, I’ve had periods of months at a time when I’ve never missed a day, but eventually I get tripped up and start missing days here and there.

Bodhipaksa’s answer was an affirmation: “I meditate every day. It’s just who I am. It’s what I do.”  Bodhipaska reported “I feel a sense of confidence as I say these words. I can feel my sense of who I am changing.”  From the sound of things at the six-week update, that seemed to work, with only one “slip-up” in over two months.  To me, that sounds fantastic!  I have multiple slip-ups every week.  Sometimes for weeks at a time, but to Bodhipaksa, it was a definite set back and it carried a lesson:

Another lesson is not to let a failure to achieve “perfection” become an excuse to give up. It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning that I realized I hadn’t meditated the previous day. And to be honest I felt a bit sick, and very disappointed. After all, there was no way to go back in time; no way to restore my track record to its 100% success rate. And a part of me thought, “That’s it, you’ve blown it,” but I decided not to take that voice, or the disappointment, seriously. I fell off the horse; it’s time to get back on. My failure to remember to meditate is just a reminder: I need my mantra! So I’m back to reminding myself, daily: “I meditate every day. It’s just what I do. It’s who I am.”

I don’t think the mantra is my thing.  I’m too sarcastic for such affirmations.  Besides, it all sounds vaguely ego-reinforcing.  I’m trying to dismantle and see through my identity, not rebuild it.  But it works for Bodhipaksa and that’s cool.  If it works for you, give it a shot.

Just remember, as a helpful lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army once explained to me, a strategy is why you’re trying to achieve something.  So I try to keep it in the forefront of my mind that I’ve made these resolutions because they benefit me, reduce suffering, lead to a happier life, and, possibly, some form of wisdom or enlightenment.  A tactic is just how you’re going to achieve your strategic goal.  There are a lot of unhelpful tactics out there (or in here, my mind) masquerading as motivation.  Just drop them and start again now.

Yes, I mean now, go, do whatever it is you’ve resolved to do.  No, don’t leave a comment.  Drop it! Now!  Good luck!

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