How to Make a New Year’s Resolution That Actually Works

Have you ever made a New Year’s Resolution and dropped it the next week? Even if you stuck with it for a month or more, did it bring about the changes in your life you most desire? Why do we make commitments, to ourselves or others, and abandon them? How do we actually create deep and lasting change in our lives?

Before deciding on a New Year’s Resolution, ask yourself: who is making this commitment? What part of me is motivating my decision to go to the gym three times a week or read a book every week? What is the deepest desire for myself, my authentic purpose and mission in life, underneath the quick fixes and superficial changes? 

If getting to the truth of what we truly want for ourselves was simple and easy, I think most people would be living fulfilled and thriving lives. Instead, we are constantly thrown about by contradictory desires, a confused and busy mind, and the accompanying stress and anxiety. We react to circumstances, playing out old scripts and patterns, rather than responding with creativity, spontaneity, and compassion. Here’s the good news: you don’t need willpower or intelligence or money or strength to find another way; you only need one thing: curiosity. You only need to learn to listen and see in a different way. And first of all, to see and listen to yourself.

Try this: sit down and think of making a New Year’s Resolution. Notice the feelings and thoughts that come up. Don’t label them as good or bad, stupid or brilliant. Just watch them unfold and be curious, dig a little deeper into the motivations and stories behind every idea. Going to the gym: Whose voice is telling me? My mother’s? The Victoria’s Secret ad I saw yesterday? My partner? Or is it for my health and energy? Does this serve my joy and excitement? How does my body feel when I think about going to gym?

Notice that you don’t feel only one way about any one thing, but many ways. We have many contradictory voices, many selves, all vying for our attention. Which do we listen to? Where do these voices come from? In Psychosynthesis, we call these subpersonalities, semi-autonomous personalities that influence our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Many people would recognize “the critic” or “the wounded child” within themselves, as aspects of their psyche that emerge at various times. They are completely normal (not the same as schizophrenia or similar psychoses) and are usually formed in childhood when we were confronted with a situation beyond our comprehension or emotional maturity. We developed the best strategy we could to survive or thrive in these situations and over time these strategies formed into habitual personality patterns, called subpersonalities (subs). The problem with these subs is that they are reliving and repeating situations from the past which are similar rather than responding spontaneously to the unique moment, like using an abacus to solve calculus. The trick to working with these parts is first getting to know them.

As we get to know our subs, we can recognize them when they come up, can welcome them in and try to hear what they have to say. Once I know these parts well and what triggers them to appear, I can be curious and open, not only with the voices of my subs, but with the situation at hand. Because something magic happens when I begin to make space for these old patterns: a more alive, clear, awake self-begins to emerge, the authentic me. From this place, I can step into each moment with a fresh mind, without a preconceived belief or judgment of what needs to happen or what is happening. To fight against these voices only makes those parts of us stronger and louder. But giving them space to express themselves and at the same time looking beyond them, we expand and connect to the immense possibilities of each moment.

So how does this help me make a good New Year’s Resolution? By practicing this process of listening to and exploring my subs, cultivating curiosity and spaciousness, I also begin to get in touch with myself beyond the stories and assumptions conditioned by my past. I begin to glimpse the possibility to make decisions from my heart, from my deepest longings for my life. This authentic voice is my Call of Self, my highest potential for life. Be aware, though, that as you move toward your deeper longings, the voices of your subs may get louder. This is a good sign. It means you’re finally doing something new. If you could truly do something new, something that came from your authentic self, and commit to it for the new year, wouldn’t you keep that commitment?