It’s 2016. For some, the rolling over of the calendar year means very little, and for others the New Year is an opportunity for a fresh start, a chance to do some course correction and to achieve some goals that may have fallen by the wayside. However, there seems to be a problem. Whatever you call them—New Year’s resolutions, intentions, goals, making better decisions—there seems to be a general cultural phenomenon of
being short lived. Whether it’s the typical surge in gym memberships or increase in health food sales in January, the trends seems to be the same—a surge and then drop off within a few short months . . . until next year that is. Certainly some changes do stick, and when that happens it is cause for celebration, however what’s going the rest of the time?
It’s All in the Focus
Let’s face it, we live in a very externally focused materialistic society. As a result, most people focus on making outward changes in hopes of a resulting inward change. We go through such great lengths to change our circumstances so that we can feel better about ourselves and about our lives, but what if we have it all backwards? What if we could feel better first and then have our lives naturally transform around us?
Certainly some outward actions do have a positive impact on our inner environment and how we feel. For example, going to the gym can be experienced as valuing one’s health, which leads to feelings of kindness and appreciation for one’s body. However, we can also be motivated by “should’s” and self-judgment, for example, “I’m not taking good enough care of myself and I don’t like the way I look so I should work out more.” The later is an example of why most resolutions do not stick, because we are coming from a place of lack, of self-criticism, or of feeling bad about ourselves. When this negative state is our internal reality the outer is bound to reflect it eventually, no matter how much effort we put into changing our circumstances.
Though change is bi-directional and interconnected, in general it is more effective when the inner change precedes the outer. This ensures that the shift in outer action and behavior is more sustainable, because instead of coming from a “should,” which is inherently self-aggressive, it can naturally flow from a new state of mind and a new sense of self.
Jumping to the Payoff
If this all sounds simplistic to you, you might just be right. It is in fact such a simple idea that most people overlook it. The payoff that everyone wants are the good feelings. We think all the outward changes will bring these good feelings when in fact you can have the good feelings right now! The positive feelings like joy, peace, love, and bliss are actually part of your being and are always there waiting to be felt. The trick is in discovering and letting go of the obstacles to those positive states of being. Once you learn how to access these positive states it takes very little effort to change your external circumstances. If you are already feeling very good in your body it is much easier to take care of it and harder to abuse it. If you are living in a state of self-compassion and joy instead of unworthiness or shame, it is much easier to transform addictions or talk to difficult people in your life about what might not be working for you. When the outer starts to reflect the inner a positive feedback loop is created that further increases the positive states. Again, the goal is not to add a quality that you don’t already have or to acquire a new job, partner, car, etc, but to see and transform the blocks to these positive states of being.
All of this may sound to you like a shameless plug for starting your year off with some psychotherapy, and you would not be entirely wrong. If going to therapy is something you have been considering, the start of a new year is a great time to get an extra boost in the form of support for the inner changes you seek. However, internal shifts can come in many ways.
Beginning With Self-Compassion
One of the simplest and most direct ways to experience a positive shift in your state of mind is to cultivate self-compassion, a sense of kindness toward yourself and an allowing and acceptance of what is. When you operate from a place of true self-compassion you become aware of your “should’s” and any actions that carry a feeling of self-aggression. It also makes it easier to make external changes that flow naturally and continue with far less effort.
Simply pausing when you notice that you are stressed and tense and giving yourself the space to take a few deep breaths and let go, is an act of self-compassion. Choosing an activity that feels healthy and nourishing, like doing yoga or taking a bath when you feel tense, or opening up to a close friend if you feel overwhelmed, are also acts of self-compassion. In addition to these on-the-spot practices, you may also wish to have a regular self-compassion practice. The one I recommend to my clients is called Meta or Loving-Kindness Meditation. The practice revolves around sitting in a chair or on a cushion, closing your eyes, and repeating four simple phrases either out loud or in your head. The phrases are:
“May I Be Happy”
“May I Be Healthy”
“May I Be Free From Suffering”
“May I Live With Ease”
Though at first they may seem simplistic, practicing Meta can create profound shifts in consciousness. You may also want to play with adding “May I and all beings ____” or imagine a mentor saying to you “May you be ____.” Also, you may find words that work better for you. Just be sure to include the format of “May I . . .” followed by a kind and compassionate wish for yourself, and repeat the same 3-4 phrases over each time. To learn more about how to cultivate self-compassion take a look at the free e-report and guided audio meditation Beating the Inner Critic, available on my homepage.
Letting the Feelings in Now
Another way to experience a shift in how you feel right now is to close your eyes and imagine what it would be and feel like to have one of the things that your heart desires. Perhaps you imagine being in a respectful loving relationship or having a positive shift in your health. Now, allow yourself to experience the feelings you imagine that having that might bring. Is it a sense of joy, peace, freedom, or relaxation? Can you notice them anywhere in your body? Let them expand on each in-breath until you have a clear sense of the feeling throughout your body. If you become simultaneously aware of the obstacles to allowing these feelings to expand, simply note them and then return your focus back to the feelings. If a slight smile comes to your face simply allow it to expand.
It can be shocking to some to discover that the positive states of being that they desire are actually available now. You don’t have to wait and you don’t have to make your happiness conditionally tied to a set of outer circumstances. Once you start to master this practice of jumping to the payoff and allowing positive feelings to flow through you, it is amazing to see how quickly your outer life transforms. Start your New Year’s resolutions with feeling the way you want to feel and the rest will fall in line.
Certainly for some these practices are easier than for others. If you are struggling to make ends meet or you have a long history of trauma and or depression, it can be harder to access these positive feelings. The important thing to remember is that no matter who you are or what your life is like right now that these positive states of being exist in everyone. On the level of being, there is nothing lacking in you and in fact nothing to add or acquire, simply things to let go of. If you find these states difficult to access or you simply want to get better at accessing them and manifesting outwardly, I recommend finding a counselor that is a good fit for you and who understands that there is nothing to fix on the level of being.
I wish you all great success and joy in the New Year,
Dan Entmacher M.A., LPCc