I have always been a big believer in making New Year’s Resolutions. I love taking a season at the end of the year to reflect on what has been and dream about what could be. This might seem a bit odd given I’m a yoga teacher and knowing how often we harp on about living in the moment. In fact, many health and wellness professionals talk a lot about being in the moment and rightly so. Wisdom traditions and science both agree. Constantly obsessing over a past that cannot be changed and worrying about a future that might not happen are surefire roads to unhappiness. But our capability to remember the past and imagine the future is an amazing thing and I don’t think we should “chuck the baby out with the bath water.”
Nostalgia makes us happy. We have this wonderful, unique cognitive ability to mentally time travel bringing the past into the present so we can enjoy valued past experiences that give us a sense of meaning and purpose. There is a link between such nostalgic reminiscing, openness and the ability to support others. Replaying happy occasions with family and friends makes us want to connect more and be better at it. The feelings attached to those happy occasions fill us with love and happiness. Remembering what we have mastered in the past increases our confidence as we set new goals. We gain valuable insights when we reflect on our past, allowing mistakes and failures to teach us better ways of being in the world. Research shows we women are particularly good at drawing on past experience to solve current problems.
Being able to visualize our future is helpful too. Several studies have shown that our brain doesn’t know the difference between a real memory and an imagined one. Did you know that as your brain visualizes something vividly with emotion, your brain chemistry changes as though the experience was real, and your mind records it as a memory?! We can use this gift to overcome fear and be more successful because we feel like we’ve done a new thing before. As we rehearse doing something well in our imagination our brain grows, laying down new neural pathways to perform the skills required as though we have already practiced them in real time. We all have a mental GPS too that helps keep us focused on achieving our goals and makes us more alert to any opportunity that will help us. It is called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). The best way to switch it on is to visualize your goals. Role-playing the future in our heads can also help us avoid potential dangers and obstacles and limit unnecessary discomfort.
I have found that when my goals reflect my values there is a unity to life that is deeply satisfying though not always easy. I have attached a mindfulness exercise to this blog post on exploring your core values that I have found helpful in formulating goals. Every new year I reflect on the year that has been, skim through my journal then write down my goals for the new year being as specific as I can and sharing them with trusted friends. I find this annual process helpful. Yoga is not just about exercise. It is about finding a coherence in mind, body and spirit.
My 2020 goals reflect my REAL values:
1. Relationship: connection to other living beings, planet, self and loving presence.
2. Experience: adventure, creativity, interesting conversations, trying new things.
3. Action: protecting living beings and planet, losing 5kg, and self-care practices.
Throughout summer I’ll be looking at what science and the wisdom traditions teach about effective, flexible goal setting and how to banish the “inner critic” that so often sabotages our creativity.
How do you feel about New Year’s Resolutions and Goal Setting? Have you made any goals for 2020? Feel free to share in the comment section.
Click below for my first guided meditation of 2020: