By Anupama Bhattacharya
Your New Year resolutions could turn out to become effective personal growth tools
I can’t remember a single resolution I have kept. Or made, for that matter. If that doesn’t put me in a singularly appropriate position to write this story, I guess I should resolve to at least make one resolve this New Year.
After all, why not? New Year is the time of change, right? When Old Father Time gently leads the senile year by and pushes the bubbly, gurgling infant year into the fray! When, after painting the town red all night, you wake up bleary-eyed and swear ‘never again’! Thus, you resolve to cut down on booze, kick the smoking habit, eat less, work out, party sensibly. You go out and buy a treadmill, pick up a few dieting books, some guided meditation tapes, and decide ‘this is it’. This is how life should be. And everything is hunky-dory.
So, what goes wrong? Why does the treadmill start gathering dust by, say, mid-March? And the boiled veggies metamorphose into juicy sizzlers?
THE REBEL WITHIN
”One in four resolutions bites the dust within a week. About half of them are gone within a month,” says Steve Levinson, co-author of the book Following Through. The reason, Levinson suggests, is that while the decision to quit is made by the logical mind, the body rebels against any change from its set pattern.
And the only way one can make any headway is by training the body one step at a time. ”I kept trying to lose weight, to get rid of anger, to stop smoking,” says Sohan Parekh, a Mumbai-based software programmer from India. ”None of it worked. I felt so tense about keeping my resolution that most of the time I failed to enjoy life. I was constantly watching myself.”
Help finally came from the Internet. ”Things began to look up when I joined a Yahoo chat group. There, somebody suggested that I should start with one resolution at a time, and go about it slowly. Like cutting down my smoking to five a day, then two a day. It has worked.”
”My most successful resolution,” says Mumbai-based film director Pankuj Parashar, ”was to give up smoking. First I substituted it for Pan Tambaca, then for Pan Parag, then gave up all three. In the beginning I refrained from smoking completely but today I smoke a cigarette a day just so it does not become a bogeyman in my mind, something to be afraid of.”
The idea is to make the change so gradual that the body does not notice it.
CHOOSING A RESOLUTION
The general rule, claims Levinson, is to choose resolutions with care. Because a failed resolution can lead to another, and that itself could become a habit. ”Think about a resolution like a marriage partner,” he says. ”You don’t marry the first prospect that you come across. You’re careful. You date. You check things out.”
Perhaps the most important point to consider here is whether you really want to kick a habit. Many of us decide to give up alcohol, or non-vegetarian food, not because we really want to but because our peer group has decided to change its lifestyle. ”Making a decision to change just because it’s New Year isn’t enough to keep you motivated for long,” claims the resolution pointers of the Texas Medical Association (TMA), a US-based health organization. The idea is to make a conscious decision based on your inclinations, choices and awareness.
”Once you have decided you are ready to make that New Year resolution and stick to it,” says Dr Saundra Gilfillan, a US-based psychiatrist, ”you need to develop a plan of action. If you wish to start an exercise programme, plan what kind of exercise you will do and how often. Make it a part of your weekly schedule. But be sure not to set your goals too high. Doing so can lead you to quit after one slip.”
Being militant about wording your resolution is also inviting trouble. If you say: ”This year I will accomplish so and so”, you are just opening the doors to stress. Instead, try a softer option. Something like: ”This year let me try and explore new ways of accomplishing so and so.”
EACH ACCORDING TO HIS OWN
Most psychiatrists suggest keeping checks when you want to maintain a resolution. But the way it works has to be customized to suit individual needs.
”You can’t apply rules at random,” says Dr Anuradha Mittal, a psychiatrist from Bangalore, India. ”For some people, consistent checks in the form of family and friends work wonders. If they are regularly reminded of their resolution and their decision to keep to it, they are more likely to succeed.” For such people, suggests Dr Mittal, writing their resolutions and goals in big bold format on the most prominent notice board, and announcing it to the world, helps like nothing else can.
If that is the case with you, make a resolution, tell your friends and family about it, program your computer to give you pop-up reminders of your resolution, put it on your desktop, and generally let the universe know that you mean to keep this resolution. The loss of face in case of a slip will keep you motivated enough to never give up.
But there are also those on whom external checks can have the opposite impact. ”People who are stubborn and self-contained resent external checks. If they are nagged about keeping a promise, they are most likely to rebel.” For such people, the only help you can provide is ignore their slips. It is best to let them be, but subtly keep them away from company that might tempt them into slipping. If you fall in this category, you can try self-hypnosis techniques or guided meditations to help you stick to your resolve.
The practice of making resolutions dates back to ancient times. New Year resolutions started over 4,000 years ago with the Babylonians, who celebrated their New Year in March to coincide with the spring planting of crops. The Babylonians believed that what a person does on the first day of the New Year will affect him or her throughout the year. A scary thought if we consider how most of us wake up bleary-eyed on New Year day after a night-long party! The concept of making a resolution also finds its place in the Hindu religion, although it was practiced before auspicious yajnas (fire rituals), not New Years. The Manu Smriti states:
Sankalpmoolah kaamo vei yagyaah sankalp-sambhavaah Vrataa niyamdharmaashcha sarve sankalpajaa smritaa.
(All wishes can be fulfilled by pledging. All yajnas and worships are accomplished after taking a vow for its performance.)
The Vedic sages believed that by making a pledge a person becomes committed towards the accomplishment of his goal. And for a person who always tells the truth, any sentence uttered becomes a resolution that inevitably reaches its conclusion. One example is the sage Durvasa, for whom even a slip of the tongue had to follow through its irretrievable course.
WHEN TO MAKE A RESOLUTION
Resolutions need not be made on New Year alone. In fact, a lot of people choose their own special days to make a resolution, be it their anniversary, birthday, or just the day when they first met that special somebody. It could even be a day when you had a moment of epiphany.
”My resolutions are kept on October 8, the day my son was born,” says Sangeeta Kathiwada, a Mumbai-based fashion impresario. ”He is 16 today and every year I have taken some resolution, which I keep for the whole year. It may be something like giving up chocolates or pickles, whatever I’m really fond of, but because it is in his name, I find it easy to keep to it.”
In fact, a special day makes it easier to keep a resolution than an impersonal New Year. ”New Year’s day does not mean much to me,” Kathiwada explains. ”But the anniversary of an event that has had such a tremendous impact on my life, makes the act of making a resolution that much more meaningful.”
”I don’t make New Year resolutions because I believe that resolutions can be made any time,” says actor Rahul Bose. ”The one resolution I made a few years ago was to stop lying. Most times, I’m not successful but I believe I’m making headway. It’s tough but I think I’m halfway there.” Adds Asit Chandmal, columnist, Bon Vivant: ”I don’t wait until New Year to make resolutions. Most people make resolutions to salve their conscience after going to town on New Year’s Eve. They wake up the next morning with a hangover and feel so bad about themselves that they promise to be good little boys and girls from then on. But the next day, they are back to normal and the resolution dissolves.”
THE NEED FOR A RESOLVE
That brings us to how successful resolutions usually are, and whether they are needed at all.
”My most successful resolution was to give up smoking cigars after 28 years of smoking them at the request of my daughters,” Chandmal says. ”I’ve never gone back to it. Once a friend was smoking a particularly fine cigar and I had two puffs, just to test myself, but it did nothing for me. The habit had just dropped. I didn’t have to struggle with it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen with the rest of my life, which is why I’m still struggling with my resolve to lose weight, eat sparingly and exercise. I do these sporadically, but they are not a permanent part of me.”
Mukesh Bhardwaj, a Pune-based reiki practitioner, feels that resolutions are needed to strengthen our will. ”Otherwise, one might just drift along with life.” He, however, adds: ”Of course, you should not depend on resolutions alone to achieve something in life. You need resolutions when you cannot achieve something the normal way. But they shouldn’t become a crutch.”
And resolutions, he claims, work best when they are focused outward then inward. ”Why not make a few resolutions that will last a lifetime? Say, adopt a needy family, or a child? Decide to visit an old age home once a month? Or plant a tree?”
Sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan’s resolution for this New Year is on similar lines. ”This year, I have resolved to do concerts for good causes and bring happiness into the lives of those who are unhappy, disturbed and needy,” he says. Film maker Muzaffar Ali’s resolution is: ”To get into Sufism deeply and revive my dream project Zooni.”
In today’s busy life, a lot of resolutions also seem to revolve around giving more time to the family. ”I am giving up modeling and settling down with my hubby,” says Sonal, a model. John Abraham, model and actor, has also decided to spend maximum amount of time with his parents. ”We plan to travel a lot together,” he explains.
But how often do resolutions last the year? Doesn’t the routine of life reappear in its old avatar, and tempt you to let go, to settle down with what was the comfortable pattern?
”Usually it does,” says Bhardwaj. ”Unless you choose your resolutions with care.” And not seek impossible goals a la Britney Spears. In 2000, she resolved not to show her midriff again. But old habits die-hard. So, when she stripped down to her bikini top at the recent MTV Music Awards, she appropriately sang her latest hit: ”Oops, I did it again.”
—with inputs from Amier and Suma Varughese
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• Make a list of reasons why you want to change and place it where you are likely to see it often.
• Don’t count your failures. Instead, make positive observations such as: ”I smoked two cigarettes less today.”
• Surround yourself with people who have either already given up the habits you’ve resolved to get out of, or are trying like you.
• Have an alternative for temptations. For example, if you feel like going on a food binge, decide to watch a movie instead.
• Give yourself rewards for your progress.