Why New Year’s resolutions don’t work and how you can better approach creating a life that you love


Transcript below

The start of a new year is a portal into a new existence, full of possibility for change. We feel this instinctively and thus have many cultural rituals to celebrate the passing of the old and the stepping into the new. However, our feelings of optimism and possibility never seem to last.

Does this seems familiar?

You approach the new year full of determination—THIS is going to be the year! For many folks in the mainstream, the year that you drop the weight and get in shape and have the body of your dreams. The year that you finally get your finances in order, get out of debt, and create the abundance you desire. Maybe you start off strong: new resolutions about self-care, for instance. But usually by the end of January, folks have given up and slowly slide back into their same disempowering mindsets and unhealthy habits—often even more jaded about the possibility of change. So why is this and what happens to undermine our success? I’m going to talk about 2 areas in particular: what is our imagined destination and what is our fuel or motivation?


New Year’s Resolutions are Characteristically American

New Year’s is a big time for making resolutions and the energy of resolutions is characteristically American, in my opinion—rooted in limited American cultural beliefs about how change happens. The energy of resolutions is really about identifying a particular material world outcome that you believe is key to your happiness, and then setting a linear goal, which is the path that you believe is necessary to achieve your external outcome, and applying the energy of self-discipline to get there. So what’s wrong with this model?

First of all, it reinforces the American belief that happiness is found in external circumstances: I’ll be happy when I lose the weight and have the body I desire, I’ll be happy when I get the job and have the money I desire, I’ll be happy when I have the relationship and get the love I desire. Similar to our mainstream frameworks about leadership and social justice, this way of thinking locates our happiness in the future, rooted in control of things outside of ourselves, and sets us up on a path of endless striving to try to achieve it. And the juice for that exhausting journey is self-discipline, essentially trying to force ourselves to do things that we actually don’t really want to do. When we inevitably fail—because how could we not—then we blame ourselves and our energy to create our best life sinks even lower.

Actually the whole process of making resolutions is rooted in shame—the energy of New Year’s resolutions is basically I’ll do better. It starts with identifying an area of life you are unhappy with, so you are likely motivated by what you don’t want, rather than what you do want. And the resolution is that I will do better—so it is rooted in self judgment, the motivation generally fear and shame driven. You rely upon your inner task master to berate you into action. It is generally joyless and one of the reasons that it doesn’t work is that it creates resentment and resistance. The part of us that doesn’t want to generally tends to win out, creating another round of self-judgment and shame until we get so tired of feeling that way that we give up and release ourselves from the expectation–and hope–for something better and walk away with underlying feelings of failure and despair: “another year I couldn’t make my dreams happen,” fueling our sense of worthlessness that is really at the root of our unloving choices in life.

So what do we do instead?

First, we shift our motivation. If we start from deep value and acceptance of ourselves, the desire to take care of ourselves and live our best life just naturally arises. We want to eat better, drink more water, find gentle and enjoyable forms of movement to support our body’s strength and flexibility. We want to cultivate and share our gifts and talents, have authentic connections. We want to have better boundaries, get more rest, surround ourselves with positive people and activities that support and value us. We want our lives to be out of crisis so we can be at our best and make our highest most positive contribution to the world around us. All of this flows from the energy of tenderness and kindness, not shame and blame. So maybe just close your eyes for a moment and really feel that energy and drink it in. You want your very best life because of how much you deeply love yourself.***

Secondly, our culture teaches us that our happiness is tied to particular outcomes so we must create the outcome first, then we experience the feeling of happiness. However, from a spiritual perspective, this is backwards. From a spiritual perspective, first you give yourself the inner experience of what you want—and then you naturally draw to yourself external circumstances that match that inner experience. So, for instance, if you feel continually victimized by life, you will tend to continually draw to yourself experiences that reinforce that feeling of victimization.


Start with the Inner Experience

So we can be proactive about what we want to create instead. Say, for instance, you would like to create radiant health or abundance—since we are all powerful creators, you can give yourself the inner experience of radiant health or abundance and focus your attention on it (rather than focusing on whatever scarcity or dis-ease you might be feeling). So let’s do that right now—just close your eyes and focus on what radiant health feels like.** And just drink that in. Aaahhh…*** Now switch and focus on what abundance feels like—maybe abundant finances, abundant love, abundant opportunities. Feeling the inner expansiveness that abundance inspires. And just really take it in and celebrate! Whoo hoo***

So often—in the American way of thinking—we get bogged down in the steps we believe are necessary to create our goal. So if we want radiant health, for instance, we think “oh, I have to eat better, go to the gym, etc”—and our vibration sinks as we imagine the drudgery involved. However, when we stay focused on the inner experience we want—radiant health—we may find that we don’t have to do as many steps as we think. You might find yourself just drawn to the right health practice or practitioner because that’s just what you need, and because it’s the right fit, you feel more motivated to do what you need to do to be healthy. Or you might find that your attention is drawn away from health altogether and you heal spontaneously while pursuing a new and gratifying career path.

And you don’t need to wait until you win the lottery to have an abundant-feeling life. Build into your life now, even in small ways, time for activities and people that you enjoy. You don’t need to live beyond your means to give yourself an expensive chocolate or a perfect flower or other item that will allow your life to feel prosperous and luxurious. Give yourself the inner experience of what you would like now rather than telling yourself “I’ll be happy when…”


Addressing Unconscious Blocks

Finally, we need to address our unconscious motivations that keep us stuck in familiar struggles. For instance, if you spend a lot of energy stressing about money, what are some ways this might actually be a smokescreen covering over a bigger issue in your life? So ask yourself, “If I did not feel stuck around money, what else would come to the surface? What am I really afraid of? What is it that I want even more than money?” Being in a struggle around money may just be a familiar—hence safe—pattern keeping your attention away from something that feels deeper and scarier to delve into.

If there is something that we have been struggling with unsuccessfully for years, there are likely unconscious payoffs to staying stuck that we’re not recognizing. Becoming aware of them helps us to deal with them more consciously and be able to let them go when we are ready. For instance, is being stuck preserving a familiar identity? Are you receiving attention from it (whether positive or negative) that you wouldn’t otherwise get? Is it allowing you to put off doing something that is frightening or protecting you from failing by preventing you from starting something?

I can say for myself that I felt frustrated for many years, as a gender creative person, that I was unable to be heard. That I had important things to say, but seemed unintelligible to people or they weren’t able to recognize the value of my perspective. It was easy to feel victimized and to blame others for my frustration.

However, I eventually had to recognize that many parts of me actually didn’t want to be seen and heard because I didn’t feel like it was safe to be seen and heard. Therefore, I was working at cross-purposes with myself—parts of me wanting to be seen and heard, parts of me not wanting to be seen and heard—which was a little like having your foot on the gas and on the brake at the same time, resulting in me not going anywhere.

But I wasn’t able to address and move on from the REAL problem until I was able to see it. So what are the payoffs of staying stuck and not having the life of your dreams? What are the ways you might be actually afraid to be happy or successful? I can say for myself that—in my own spiritual development—facing my wounds and traumas took one level of courage, but embracing my gifts and my power was actually much much scarier!


Try a Different Approach

So doing this kind of work does generally take support because it can be hard to see what’s in our blind spots—both our fears and our gifts that we can’t see. For instance, if you have a hand in front of your face, it can be difficult to see what exactly it is because it’s so close. But someone across the room can easily see “oh, you have a hand in front of your face.” So having this kind of help can save you years of struggle and suffering.

So, if the New Year’s resolution approach has failed you year after year after year, you might be ready to try a different approach. If this sounds appealing—or like a welcomed relief—reach out and let’s figure out what would be the best strategy for you. Because this journey does take support.

So I encourage you to start with trying a different approach to the new year. Rather than choosing a New Year’s resolution for 2019, I invite you instead to choose a spiritual power for the year. A spiritual power is not a specific outcome or destination, instead it is a quality—like Courage or Trust or Magnetism or Steadfastness—that has the ability to create many positive outcomes. For example, the disappearance of a physical symptom is an outcome, while the capacity to heal is a spiritual power. Creating a circumstance or event that evokes joyfulness is another example of an outcome, while experiencing joy regardless of outer circumstances is a spiritual power. I’ll create a post inviting people to share the spiritual power they are claiming for the year—and then I’ll regularly have check in’s where people can share how they are embodying that power and, as holders of that power, giving it away to others.

Ok, so the ending of our calendar year and the beginning of a new one is a very significant and potent marker in our individual and collective journeys. I hope that you make the most of it and have lots of fun in the process! And I’ll see you on the other side!



2 thoughts on “Why New Year’s resolutions don’t work and how you can better approach creating a life that you love

  1. Mel Mathiowetz

    Great article Sam.

    So, articulate.

    I so can relate to the push me pull me effect”feeling”. I think Barb Silvis calls it split brain. In tapping, there is a technique to address it where you state both sides in an argue with yourself way…while tapping the meridian end points… releasing the negative energy by acknowledging it….taking off a layer upon layer of emotional charge until you can see it without all the emotional static and you can more easily see more than 1 or 2 choices. Phrew…thanks for your patience and listening .


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