Sankalpa: An Alternative to the New Years’ Resolution

It is now January 4th, which means that 30% of New Years’ Resolutions have failed (and by February 1st, 80% of the remaining resolutions will have failed).

Most New Years’ Resolutions attach some kind of numerical quotient: “read 60 books in 2019”, “increase my income by 20%”, “lose 50 pounds”. Yes, life coaches will tell us to create S.M.A.R.T. goals–goals that are realistic, trackable, and measurable–and for some people, having a numerical quotient tied to their goal allows them to evaluate their progress in the goal–it’s much more fulfilling to say, “I’ve read 12 books in 2019 thus far”, or, “I’ve made 5% more already than I did last year”, or, “I’ve already lost 8 of my 50 pounds!”–because numbers give us data points, and in our social-media, technology-driven world, data points mean validation, and once when read those 60 books, hit that 20% increase, or lose those 50 pounds, we can then check off the box and say, “I’ve hit my resolution”.

But, in this method, doesn’t this center our goal around “checking off a box” rather than the process of actually bettering ourselves? Right, then we don’t really care how we get there, what we are doing there, why we got there in the first place, but rather, that we HAVE completed the goal–and then we can just move onto to the next Bucket List item?

Take, for example, the goal of “reading 60 books in 2019”. The literary nerd in me LOVES that people (my age) are going back to reading–I believe that reading adds so much value to ones’ existence. Reading allows us to learn new things, explore different worlds, investigate ourselves. I also believe that a book worth reading is a book that must be sat down every so often–to digest the characters, to absorb the plot line, contemplate the moral dilemmas–which means that I may not be able to read that book in a week. But, if my goal is to read 60 books in 2019, then my reading may become more about speeding through a book so that I can “check it off my list” and less about the self-enlightenment that should (hypothetically) occur when I’m reading; I’m not reading to create relationships with my characters, to pay attention to author’s craft and writing style, to examine my own personal reactions (these things take time outside of reading and slow my reading speed down)–I’m simply reading so that I can say I read 60 books in 2019.

Or, take the concept of increasing your income by 20%. If you are following the Dave Ramsey program, then you will know that these numerical benchmarks allow you to assess which step of the program you can now advance to–once you hit $1,000 in savings, then you move onto snowballing your debt; once you’ve paid off your house, then you start saving 30% for retirement, etc. If my resolution is to increase my income by 20%, I really have two options: ask my company for a raise, or get a second/third/forth/fifth job–which, for most of us, the latter option is the most feasible. So then what? I start driving for Uber, start driving for Uber and add in some DoorDash on those trips (hopefully my passengers don’t mind the smell of Wendy’s in the trunk). I start selling Tupperware or nail polish stickers in a MLM company. I offer to walk people’s dogs during my lunch breaks–and the quantity that I’m ‘gaining’ becomes more important to me than the quality of work I’m producing, and I’m not really exploring WHY I need more money, WHAT kind of spending habits I’ve created that require me to need more money, HOW making more money changes my life; I care more about saying, “I increased my income 20%” rather than investigating why that’s on my resolution list in the first place.

And, perhaps the most common resolution–to lose 50 pounds. We all know why this resolution fails–people get discouraged. They see the scale falling very quickly in the first few weeks, and then taper off, and their resolution seems to be failing, because they are not hitting that 50 pound mark as quickly as they would have hoped. Or, they hit the 50 pound mark, and then go back to their old routines. The emphasis, again, becomes more on losing the weight–checking the pounds off that box–rather than creating life style changes. There is no emphasis on exploring WHY I need to lose weight–what kind of habits, daily routines, psychological traumas are leading me to gaining weight? why do I have a mental block again exercise? what kinds of unhealthy routines do I have with food?

This is why resolutions fail: we become more focused on ‘checking off a box’ so we can say that ‘we did it’ rather than focusing on the purpose of the resolution in the first place–to change, to improve, to explore.

The last few years, instead of resolutions, I’ve set sankalpas. In yoga, a sankalpa is a intention, or a focus. Last year, after returning from Germany, I set my sankalpa to focus on consumerism; rather than setting a goal to “reduce my trash by 10%”, or, “recycle 20 boxes very month”, setting this intention allowed me the opportunity to explore my own consumerism–to notice my habits, to pay attention to WHY those habits existed, to investigate ways in which I could cut down on my consumerism (for one, I realized just how much trash I, singly and personally, create when I go through the Chick Fil A drive thru, and I noticed that these trips most often occur in the early afternoon, when I hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch…). In the previous year, I set my sankalpa to be about gratitude–I made an intention to write more thank you cards, to spend more time in prayer and reflection, to devote my yoga flows to practicing gratitude. And this year, my sankalpa is to focus on my connection to others–to commit to looking at people in their eyes and to calling them by their names, to gives more hugs, to ask more questions and spend more intentional time with others. I hope to explore areas of my life in which I reject connection with others–and to learn why that might be; I hope to pay attention to which avenues allow me the most connection to others–social media? coffee? laughter?–and I hope to continue finding ways to build relationships with my family, my friends, my co workers, my acquaintances, random people in the grocery store.

….but, with all of that being said, my New Years’ Resolution is to win the lottery. And, like Rhonda Byrne, Tony Robbins, and all those other motivational authors say, I’ve enjoyed many “visualization” sessions thus far–closing my eyes and imagining myself as a millionaire–and I’m confident this resolution will not fail.

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