I recently had an acquaintance on Facebook ask whether her followers made New Year’s #resolutions and why. Not surprisingly, most people answered with a resounding no saying that it was a waste of time. I responded that I don’t make New Year’s resolutions but spend time near the end of every year to set myself some guiding principles instead. What’t the difference?
The thing with New Year’s resolutions is that they generally arise out of something about ourselves we cannot accept. We’re trying to “fix” ourselves. We think we’re fat, so we resolve to lose weight. We think we’re lazy, so we resolve to exercise at the gym. We know smoking is killing us, so we resolve to quit. We all know how the story ends. Give it a few good weeks or even a couple of months, and our initial motivation dies out. We meant well, but instead of reaching a goal, we end up judging ourselves for our perceived failure. No wonder people have given up on making resolutions!
This year, why not try something completely different? The difference with creating New Year Guiding Principles is that is arises out of your values. There’s no end goal, so the energy guides you all year long. And instead of you having to control anything, you just have to let life takes its course, offering you the lessons and opportunities that align with those guiding principles. The wonderful thing about this practice is that at the end of the year, a quick review will reveal to you all the ways you actually did manifest the things you said were important to you. In my 10+ years with this practice, it never fails.
Here’s a quick guide to writing your own guiding principles. Of course, there are no rules here, so do what works for you. Be creative. The one thing I do strongly suggest, though, is that you take this seriously. Make it a ritual. Give it your undivided attention, get quiet and centered beforehand, play some nice music, light a candle. You get the idea.
Consider what you value. Begin by taking an inventory of things that matter most to you. I don’t mean material things; I mean standards of behavior. Do you value creativity? Truth? Family? Service? If you need some inspiration, Steve Pavlina has a great list to refer to here. Pick one or two things. One is enough. Any more than three and your focus will be too divided throughout the year. Now open up a journal or Word document and add your two words at the top of the page. I like to be very decorative with these.
Describe these values with a few words and how you intend for them to become fruitful in your life.
I usually write a brief paragraph explaining my choices:
This year, I am choosing “Clarity” and “Forgiveness” as my guiding principles. May all that keeps me from being clear, from being in my knowing, become apparent. May the choices and decisions I make come from a place free of confusion, blindspots, and self-doubt. May I come to forgive anyone or thing in my life that I continue to resent. May I free myself from the bitter poison of holding on to past hurts and misunderstandings. Most especially, may I be quick to forgive others in the year ahead and learn to forgive myself for past actions.
Add some specific things you’d like to do or accomplish that are inline with these values and will help you cultivate them.
For example, if you value clarity, you might decide that you’d like to focus more on meditation because that will help you gain the clarity you desire. If you value justice, maybe you’ll spend some time with the concept, deciding what it actually means to you and by paying attention for examples in your daily life of what it is and isn’t. If you value creativity, perhaps you’ll pick up some new mode of expression be it writing or painting or learning an instrument. It isn’t about anything too specific, like learning the piano. It’s about exercising your creative expression when opportunity arises so it’s free to take many forms. If you value health, maybe you’ll cut back on sugar or try new superfoods.
The important thing in step three is to keep things as “resolution free” as possible. This isn’t about reaching an end goal. You may or may not, for example, cut out sugar, but I guarantee you, will, by the end of year, be astounded at how whatever you value has come into your life in unexpected ways. You’ll be more forgiving. You’ll be more creative. You’ll be more adaptable or wise or joyous.
If you find yourself writing a list of things that sound more like resolutions, try this. Make a list of things you’ll spend less time doing and more time doing:
I will spend less time griping about what I can’t control and more time letting things roll of my back.
I will spend less time zoning out on social media and more time actually socializing.
STEP FOUR: Put it away.
That’s right. Unlike a resolution that you think about constantly and use to feel rotten, don’t think about your list. Yes, the words will be in your awareness, but you don’t have to take any action. Trust life to fulfil your order and take notice when it does!
Oh, and feel free to edit at intervals throughout the year. After all, things change. Go with the flow!
STEP FIVE: End of Year Review
Come November or December, it is time to revisit what you wrote. Reflect month by month all the ways your values were expressed (or not) throughout the year. There’s no failure here. Everything is a gift, a lesson. If you just couldn’t forgive someone, you’ll now have a better understanding of how aligned you are with your values and the work that still needs to be done, if any. But more likely, you’ll be astonished at all the ways you allowed forgiveness, or whatever you value, into your life.
Most importantly, instead of berating yourself for failing to “improve” yourself by reaching some unattainable goal that you never really wanted to reach in the first place, you can feel good about living a year living in the direction of what you value. #HappyNewYear!