Prevention Magazine January, 2006 Make New Year’s promises that pay off over a lifetime.
Around this time a few years ago, I was feeling like an exhausted gerbil on an endless wheel. I’d resolved many times to slow down but never seemed to be able to do it. (That’s embarrassing because I keep writing books about the value of stillness!)
So, in the hopes of crafting a more powerful New Year’s resolution that I could really honor, I imagined myself not as a racing rodent but as a wise old woman ready to leave this world. Looking back through the years at a life that was rich and full, it was easy to see what mattered most: Spending more time with my family and creating a school to train spiritual mentors were my heart’s deepest desires—not winning the rat race.
That year, for the first time, I made resolutions that were specific to these two long-range goals. “Slowing down” had been too general a resolution to keep. But spending more time with my loved ones and making time to create and launch the school were specific goals that I could plan for and reach. And not only would they matter now, but they would continue to matter for my entire life and, hopefully, beyond. This New Year’s, I suggest making these kinds of long-term “soul resolutions” for yourself. They provide a valuable compass that can help guide your life choices. Here’s how to allow them to come into focus.
As you move out of the old year and into a new one, take an hour or two to envision a future in which your true gifts are expressed with grace and ease. Genuine resolutions, based on saying yes to your deepest longings, can help you create a better future for yourself, your family, and the world. These soul resolutions are grounded in a long-range perspective, but they also reveal the practical steps needed to get there. One of the best ways to tune in to your soul’s vision is to imagine that you’re an elderly person, looking back over your life, taking stock. Ask yourself the following questions: What matters most to you? What did you learn in your life? How do you want to be remembered? Are there things you wish you’d done but never got around to doing?
After you’ve done the “looking back” exercise, take a few minutes to write down your answers. If you record your insights in a special notebook (I call mine Soul Goals), you can keep tabs on your progress throughout the year and expand your vision as the years go by. Below are some examples of wise resolutions that can grow out of careful reflection, compared with the quick, shallow kind that are often relatively meaningless and hard to accomplish.
A typical failed resolution of mine used to be “I will lose 10 pounds by June 1.” The truth is that, at 5-foot-4 and 125 pounds, I’m not as thin as I once was, but I’m not overweight either. And when I’m 80, I probably won’t care that my thighs were a little chubby. I will care that I stayed in shape so that I could continue walking the mountain roads under the summer moonlight and skiing in the crisp, cold air of winter. A family trip to a place like Machu Picchu when I’m about 75 is a fitness goal I can relate to. The steps to get there are inherent in the resolution “I will care for my body so that I can continue to feel the pleasure of being fit and fully alive as I grow older.”
A resolution like “I’ll spend less and save more” is good in theory, but unless your money plan is about saying yes to something that matters deeply, you’ll find it hard to say no to that new pair of designer shoes. When you’re old, you probably won’t care that you were rich. But you will care that you had the financial freedom to treat your family to that trek in Machu Picchu or to build an addition onto your house for your aging parents. A resolution such as “I will stay focused on working toward financial independence by…” (and then listing the steps) is much easier to keep if you have an idea of why you want it. Your long-range intentions might even make you feel rich in the meantime, when you’re shopping at the thrift store and driving that castoff from Rent-a-Wreck.
“I’ll find a job that feeds my soul” is a much more powerful resolution than finding a job to feed your ego or your pocketbook. My friend Sandy was a reproductive biologist on the faculty at a university. After several years, she burned out. She decided to look for a better job—and actually found two. One was as a college biology teacher; the other, as a research scientist in an independent laboratory with its own funding. The first job paid better and would give her more time off. But when Sandy looked back on her life, she realized that doing research was very important to her. She had a curious, bright mind that thrived on continuous discovery. Using that God-given talent felt more fulfilling than teaching, which is a wonderful profession but wasn’t her true calling. The resolution to find a job that would feed her soul guided Sandy to choose a career that continues to nourish her.
Goals rooted in what really matters are far easier to keep than facile resolutions that roll off the surface, right down the drain. Life is busy, and it’s easy for day-to-day demands and popular trends to crowd out the wisdom of your heart. But if you know where you’re going and make clear plans for how to get there, you will create a life of wisdom, abundance, and love. Then, when it comes time to actually review your life at the end of your time here, the delight of living on purpose—in accord with your soul’s highest vision—will be an evident blessing both for you and the ones you love.
Tips for creating powerful soul resolutions.
- Put aside a quiet afternoon or evening to look back on your life, and then write long-range soul resolutions for these six areas: family, friends, faith, finances, fitness, and work.
- Share the process of visioning and creating soul resolutions with a friend. It can help bring much more clarity to both of you.
- Once you know what’s most meaningful personally, create a resolution that uses your talents to help others. One of the best ways to increase health and happiness is to make a positive difference in the world.