29 Nov How to make a meaningful New Year’s Resolution
Guest post by Frank Ra
How to make a meaningful new year's resolution: keeping a dream journal
This is my experience with making a new year's resolution which works. Here, you find some overall lessons I learnt, sometimes the hard way :-). Together with a practical implementation: keeping a dream journal with my wife.
Identify patterns in previous resolutions
What were your previous resolutions about? How successful were them? Which successful approaches can you replicate from the past, and which ones need to be improved?
In my case, a pattern emerged very clearly: being a writing-aholic, since 2009 my new year's resolutions have been about writing. A blog first, then a book. The experience of writing is transformational, so I decided to repeat it with something I can share with my wife.
Focus on what matters
When you think about 2012, what do you see yourself doing? And, thinking more long-term,
what do you visualize? What is so important to commit yourself to, for at least one full year?
We spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping, so we better to it well. The quality and quantity of our sleeping deeply influences the quality of our awaken life. Plus, being a meditator, having the opportunity to extend a deeper awareness beyond the awaken state is an opportunity I can no longer pass.
Do your home-works
Which first-hand information can you find online for related topics? What are the main rewards highlighted, and the pitfalls mentioned? In most of the cases, you are not looking for very academical researches on your resolution. If that would be the case, you would probably be better off with a specialist.
We started to dig a bit into the information available about sleep patterns, dreams, etc. I have experienced lucid-dreaming (awareness of being dreaming, which gives you the flexibility to consciously direct your dream) from time to time. As a child, I watched a cartoon which mentioned lucid dreaming. However, it was only in my early teens that a lucid-dreaming experience occurred effortlessly.
Keeping a dream journal does not necessarily result in lucid dreaming, however greater awareness of our overall dreaming state makes it more likely. It is a good way to improve awareness. By writing your dreams down, you can browse them later on and see what your mind was telling you, what you were thinking about, your moods, etc at a given period of our life.
Clarify your doubts
In addition to the subjective satisfaction of keeping your resolution, are there commonly accepted rewards mentioned by people who took it? Is there any side-effect?
After the initial enthusiasm about having a dream journal, I started to wonder if knowing “to be under observation” would have influenced the quality of my sleep. And, indeed, for the first few nights, the quality of sleep may be different. However, it returns to normality after a few days at most. That' s what I call the “Big Brother's house effect”: knowing to be observed may make us self-conscious for a bit, however then we return to normal behaviour.
The power of positive phrasing
If I say you: “do not laugh!”, what do you visualize? Probably, yourself laughing. Or the sound of it. Or the feeling of release in your body which comes with a hearty laugh.
Positive resolutions, focused on your actions (being/doing what you want to do) are more powerful than negative resolutions (moving away from something), which are focused on what you do not want to do. Because, as said, your attention goes on the words you use.
More rituals, less “self-control”
Which rituals can you incorporate, in your daily life, to support your resolution? Is there any existing habit which would be better to remove, because it is obstructing?
I could relay on my “self-control” to stick to my dream journal. Or, even worse :-), to my memory. However, I found more effective to give myself a routine. When I wake up in the morning, I drink a glass of water, sit and then write today's page of my dream journal.
If I have a shower, breakfast, etc and then fill the journal when I can, then I remember about it when it is already too late, and my dreams are gone. No matter how serious I am about my commitment, I understood the resolution works more effortlessly if I gave myself a routine.
I am sure you are familiar with this if you are blogging or meditating. You make these actions part of your daily life, allocating to it a precise time and order in your daily schedule. By doing this, the more days you have been keeping your resolution, the more it becomes engraved in your mind, the more you stick to it. Counting only on willpower drains energy.
In earlier studies, it was said that it takes about 3-5 weeks to form a habit. More recent studies mention an average from 18 to over 200 days, depending on the kind of habit and how change-resistant a person is. Keep it simple, make it a ritual instead of consuming energy with self-control, which deplete relatively large amounts of glucose (sugar). This is especially true for some kind of resolutions, like dieting (resisting sweets is what will burn your sugar, making you crave for even more).
Share the ride!
Can you think of anyone who may like to embrace the same resolution of yours? Can you think of someone who is likely to make a resolution, so the two/three/etc of you can meet regularly and share success and challenges?
We are social. For some of us, social means a crowd. For some, a handful of friends. For other, one person we can really count on. That may also vary depending on the resolution we want to share. My wife and I agreed that we can share anytime our dreams with each other, if we so desire, especially if they are funny or particularly meaningful. However, there is no pressure to do so.
At least once per week, on Sunday, we have a chat about how our dream journal is going overall. Committing to talk about a resolution on a daily basis may not be feasible. However, agreeing on a day/time each week/month when we share the ride about our resolution is important. That ensures we really talk about it.
Start at your earliest
Can you start your resolution today? Do you really need to wait until January, 1st?
We started our dream journals on November, 1st. That is two months ahead of time, so why do I still call it a New Year's Resolution? Because I feel the commitment is about keeping the NYR for the whole 2012, not about when I started it.
Once you start, it is for good
Unless there are objective reasons for taking it slowly, for me it works better to fully commit to my resolution. Starting soft, for example writing in my dream journal only every other day or so, is simply too distracting. My resolution is fairly easy to implement, even when on vacation or away from home. If yours requires special conditions to succeed (example: specific dietary availability), plan ahead and yes, it may be ok to take a week off during your vacation, as long as you promptly return to your commitment once back home.
What can you learn from other people who are taking similar resolutions? What can you learn from the people who are sharing the resolution with you?
Especially if you implement your resolution with a partner or friend, you will be surprised by how many ways there are to achieve the same result. Love this diversity! After a few days, it became very evident that my wife and I have a different approach to keep a dream journal. She is using an artistic, nice notebook. I have an agenda of 2012. We both have our reasons for doing this. Also, she prefers to write more details, I just make a bullet list.
Even if a given approach does not necessarily apply to your context and personality, give yourself time to appreciate the richness of the approaches we have available.
Support it with proper eating and exercising
Eating properly and exercising: no matter if your resolution is focused on being even fitter, or on something else, you benefit from feeding your body and mind with appropriate food, in appropriate quantities, and by exercising. This ensures you have full energy to devote to your resolution.
What does it mean for a dream journal? Exercising during the first half of the day, and having a light dinner, facilitate peaceful sleeping. Which in turns facilitate lucid dreaming and dream recollection.
Last but not least: enjoy the ride! If your resolution is an entertaining one, that is even easier. If your commitment is a demanding one, appreciate the benefit it brings you each step along the path, and also the long-term advantages.
For example, if your commitment is about living free from addictive substances or unhealthy food, you can imagine your lungs, heart, etc thanking you for your daily accomplishments!
Frank Ra is Dharma instructor, and well-being coach. He is the author of "A course in happiness" (http://www.amareway.org/a-course-in-happiness-book/). He visited over 30 countries and 80 cities, exploring different ways of living a joyful lifer, before settling in British Columbia, Canada. His work has been featured on North American, Asian and European media.