This post was first published on the Huffington Post UK blog.
Lemmings – those furry little rodents that regularly throw all caution to the wind and jump into the seething ocean convinced they are going to get to the other side.
By now many of us have done a good job of imitating them in the ritual of the New Year’s Resolution.
We have (to a greater or lesser extent) willingly thrown ourselves into the chasm of commitment, convinced that what is really just another day has some magical component which will miraculously allow us to swim against the tide of our human nature.
Unlike many of the lemmings, of course, we live to tell the tale of floundering against the waves of character reform inertia. We live to feel the bruises caused by the returning surf bringing back the debris of whatever habits or traits we had resolved to confine to the dustbin of our personal history.
And that’s just 1 January. By 2 January…well, you get the picture.
Nevertheless, resolution is good. Resolve is a key quality in character reform.
But taking it out of the airing cupboard one day a year isn’t necessarily a great recipe for success. In order to turn around an unwanted character trait it can help to develop our resolve through a more consistent spiritual practice.
Here are six things that can help that happen.
1. Watching for will-power. That is, watching out for it. Why? Well, think of those lemmings! Will-power says “If I want it, I can get it”. Spirituality takes a step back to examine whether the desired goal is a healthy one to be harbouring in the first place. Is it just for one’s own benefit or will it be of value to others too? Maintaining resolve is a whole lot easier when it is applied to something we intuitively feel will also serve a greater good.
2. Listening for “a still, small voice”. That is how the Bible beautifully articulates the idea of perceiving and embracing a broader, wiser perspective that is always whispering within. We hear it as we are willing to set aside our own plans and lean on the divine to point out a better direction. This builds a solid foundation for resolve, because when it works from the outset it gives us a basis for confidence we can stay the course, knowing at every step of the way we will have access to that same intuitive resource.
3. Embrace change. What if change is like a patient visitor repeatedly knocking on the door of our thought, waiting to be welcomed in? Did Michelangelo catch a glimpse of this when he said of the stone he sculpted: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”? Couldn’t the very desire to change suggest we each have an inner “sculpture” just waiting to be seen – an individuality including all life’s best qualities, such as love, joy, intelligence, creativity, freedom and kindness. Having that in mind as a model demanding to take form reinforces the conviction we are empowered to reach our goal – one that is not so much a New Year’s resolution as a “new you” resolution at any time of the year.
4. Go easy on yourself. I’ve found self-forgiveness is a powerful ally of resolve, and often opens the way to achieving our aims. I once overslept through an important appointment and was mentally condemning myself until I glimpsed a need to be less self-critical. I felt inspired to take a walk in Kew Gardens, which I hadn’t visited for years, and promptly bumped into the very person I was meant to have met that morning. We conducted and concluded our business then and there. What if we are tempted to feel we’ve “slept through” countless opportunities to improve our lot? Rather than thinking we are prisoners of the past we can acknowledge our freedom to see the unwavering possibilities of the present.
5. Patience is more than just a virtue. It is actually a force for good when the going gets tough, as it probably will. Our unwanted character traits sometimes seem to have a voice of their own, persistently arguing their corner. We have to be as patient with ourselves as a parent would be in encouraging a child to reach its full potential. It is love that drives the patience in both cases. We value ourselves enough to stick with the process until we are free.
6. A “new you” is a healthier you. Character reform and health reform go hand in hand. In many ways this is taken for granted. For instance, it is accepted that moderating a drinking habit is going to improve health. But the links between character and well-being go much deeper than just effecting a change in our actions. Changing thought can be pivotal. Researchers have found traits like bitterness, bad temper and resentment can undermine health, while their opposites promote it. So becoming more forgiving, patient and persistent to bring about change doesn’t just remove a single undesirable characteristic at the end of a process of transformation. It also exercises a wealth of prescription-free, health-giving qualities throughout the process. And by evidencing a link between our thoughts and our well-being we might just be probing whether “healthy and free” is what we are divinely “sculpted” to be.
Change for change’s sake is not desirable. But change which is desirable for the sake of our own happiness and that of others is attainable.
Whether it is something in our characters or something about our health that needs improving, we don’t have to pay homage to the status quo. We are equipped with the resolve we need to ring in the changes.
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