Keeping My New Year’s Resolution Or How I Accidentally Became a Black Belt
One with Heart Program Coordinator
How is your New Year’s resolution going? If you are like most people you may already be starting to backslide. Why is it so difficult to stick to those resolutions? More importantly, what can I do to accomplish the goals I set for myself this year?
Twenty four years ago my New Year’s resolution was to start training martial arts. I was a young mother, just had my second child, and was very motivated to feel safer, stronger and more confident about protecting myself and my children. I had never done anything like martial arts, but it seemed like a good way to achieve this goal and to get back in shape at the same time.
Setting goals usually means starting something new or changing an old pattern of behavior. Replacing habitual behavior with new behavior requires more than just thinking about it. It requires changing our thinking. In other words ‘default thinking’ is what we fall back on when faced with a challenge, choice or decision. Once the holidays end and the demands of day to day life kick in again, our default thinking leads us right back into old patterns of behavior unless we have a strategy for making different choices. Change requires that we rewire the neuro pathways to the brain and create new default thinking.[i] Sounds complicated, but here are five simple tips for making positive choices that will help you reach your goals.
- Be honest. Set goals that matters to you. There is a difference between a goal and a fantasy. A goal is something meaningful you are willing to work for. A fantasy is an idealization you think about. If you have never run before, maybe running a marathon in 6 months is more of a fantasy than an honest goal at this moment.
My goals, to learn self-defense and get into shape, were important to me. I was not immediately focused on becoming a black belt. I had never trained martial arts and had no idea what that even meant. If you begin training martial arts with the fantasy of becoming a black belt, that’s great, but it may be easier to stay on track if you also have more immediate goals that keep you motivated along the way.
- Get real. When there is something you would like to accomplish, recognize there may be obstacles and have a strategy for working through them. This will help you focus your attention and make your goal a priority. Gabriele Oettingen in her book Rethinking Positive Thinking presents a strategy called “mental contrasting” in which you combine a positive image of the future with recognition of obstacles that may stand in the way of getting there. Her studies show that people who employ this ‘get real’ strategy to positive thinking were much more likely to reach their goals[ii]
Before I started training I knew, with two babies at home, my biggest obstacle was finding time to do something new. I negotiated a schedule with my husband, then I prioritized. When I had free time you were more likely to find me training than having coffee with the new mom’s group. With planning, finding time to train was an obstacle that never became a permanent barrier.
- Be yourself. Do what resonates with you. If your goal is to read more, read books you like. If your goal is to get into shape, find physical activities you enjoy. Each year one of the top New Year’s resolutions is to get into shape. A big reason people backslide is they find working out boring. The answer is do a workout that is compelling.
I love martial arts because it is a physical workout that is engaging mentally and emotionally. I stay motivated to train because I continue to learn things about myself that enrich my life. Physical fitness is the icing on the cake.
- Keep it Simple. Make your task so simple you can’t fail. The key to changing default thinking is taking consistent action in order to create a new habit. You are more likely to be consistent if the task is easy to work into your life. If you have never been a runner start with short runs, a quarter mile or five minutes. What if you are so excited about your new venture you want to spend all your time on it? Most experts say don’t. It’s easier to start and maintain a tiny habit than a huge one. Keep it simple, start easy and build gradually.
I started training martial arts at such a busy time it wasn’t an option for me to do too much too fast. I had to keep it simple and this served me well. I established a consistent routine where I could experience the benefits of training without burning out.
- Just Do It. Embrace the process. All of us know how procrastination can derail our positive intentions. We wait for inspiration or are overwhelmed with what it takes to do a task well so we don’t get started or we quit. The way around procrastination is to focus on process, not performance. Everyone has days when they are not motivated and days when they do not perform well. Take the pressure off yourself to always feel inspired or produce great results. Just do it and the positive results will come.
We call this training with a pure heart. Ego is that nagging voice that tells us either how great we are or how we don’t measure up. It interferes with learning, stops the flow of creativity and can discourage motivation. I experience the greatest joy and benefits of training when I release judgement and am not focused on performance.
I did accomplish the goals I set for myself 24 years ago; I feel safe and I am in great shape. Then I went on to accomplish so much more. Motivated by the desire to be an excellent self-defense teacher I eventually tested for black belt. Teaching self-defense is the most rewarding work I have ever done. I continue to train and the awareness, confidence, resilience and compassion I gain one class at a time makes me a better person.
There are four principles of training I learned at One with Heart in one of my first classes. They sum up the five tips I just outlined. I credit these principles with helping me keep that resolution years ago and continue to reach my goals.
Practice. Repetition and consistency get positive results.
Patience. Change takes time. Keep it simple, and build upon each success.
Perseverance. Anything meaningful is worth working for. Don’t let obstacles become barriers.
Purity. Do what you do with a pure heart and open mind. Embrace the process.
2016 can be the year you follow through on your New Year’s resolutions. If you start to backslide, any time is a good time to reset. A small change can make a big difference. It might even accidentally change your life.
[i] Psychology Today, Feb. 21, 2013
[ii]New York Times book review of Rethinking Positive Thinking, Dec. 22, 2014
The Los Angeles Times, Jan. 10, 2016
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net