Whether you want to admit it or not, a new year means you’re probably considering how to achieve some New Year’s resolutions. Make fun all you want, but using milestones to redirect your life is perfectly wise. That said, if you try to take on everything at once or meet only vague goals like “find a girlfriend this year” and “stop falling in love with everyone you sleep with,” you’re less likely to be successful than if you stick to pragmatic specifics to achieve those end goals.
What you’ll find below aren’t your usual (ultimately B.S.) shortcuts to self-actualization, like cutting out sugar or finally organizing your closet like a Japanese minimalist. Sure, those changes might help, but these long-term suggestions focus mostly on inner growth. After all, it’s what’s inside that counts.
Learn about the avoid/adapt/adjust/accept quadrant.
I learned about this “trick” at a week-long meditation retreat I did with the Buddhist monk Tashi Nyima, who writes the blog Great Middle Way. The idea is to draw out a box with the following four sections and to categorize your activities and relationships that are currently stressors.
AVOIDED: These are stressors that can be eliminated entirely. For example, a bad relationship can be avoided by breaking up with someone, and unhappiness spurred by social media could be avoided by deleting certain social apps.
ADJUSTED: These are stressors that can be adjusted in frequency, intensity, or duration. For example, if your parents asking whether you’re seeing anyone is a stressor, an adjustment would be setting a boundary that your love life is officially an off-limit topic. If driving in rush-hour traffic is a stressor, an adjustment would be that you only schedule dates for after it’s over or within walking distance from your place.
ADAPTED: These are stressors to which we can apply strategies to increase personal resilience, such as meditation or setting screen time limits.
ACCEPTED: These are stressors that cannot be avoided, altered, or adapted, but toward which we can change our attitude, thus reducing ensuing stress. For example, listening to your friend with compassion even though they keep making the same dating mistakes, or resolving to sit with your sadness around a breakup.
People who’ve been conditioned by society to be subservient (here’s looking at you, women, LGBTQ, and POC folks, especially), Nyima tells me, tend to jump to adapting and adjusting — and neglect the “avoid” quadrant, which should actually always be your first considered course of action. If a friendship, romantic relationship, or obligation is a consistent source of stress no matter how much you try to adapt or adjust, consider the hard truth that you might just want to avoid it altogether. As someone who finally took this piece of advice, I can tell you that it wasn’t easy, but the benefits are huge. Which brings me to…
Give yourself the gift of “no.”
As we just went over, saying no is tough, especially for people who are trained to say yes and be accommodating — which is why it’s so important to practice. “Ask yourself if whatever is being asked of you makes you want to say ‘yes,’” Davina Kotulski, life coach and author of “It’s Never Too Late To Be Yourself,” tells me. “If it’s not a solid yes, it’s a no. Take a pass and reserve your energy and resources for what truly inspires you. Be intentional about what you’re choosing.” Permission to do this is one of the most powerful gifts you can give yourself.
Learn how to alter your mood with this quick fix.
Practicing meditation teaches you that moods are much more transient than you think — and that means we can often redirect them. Nyima posits that all emotions are fleeting, unless we hold onto them by focusing our attention on the negative feeling and magnifying it.
In order to hold onto a feeling, we have to create an internal narrative about it and assume a posture and breathing pattern to sustain it. So, for example, if we’re upset about someone ghosting on us, we might find ourselves thinking, This is such bullshit, this always happens, and notice that we’re breathing shallowly and sitting hunched over. If we want to let it go, Tashi suggests that it is only necessary to: “1. redirect our attention; 2. interrupt the internal dialogue; and 3. change our posture and breathing pattern.” So we might sit up straight and tell ourselves something like, “I am strong and loveable and can let this go,” and take 10 deep breaths.
Having tried this many times now, I can tell you it’s amazing how well it works. You reaffirm that you are the one driving your mind, and in so doing, feel much better and more accepting of feelings arising and falling. An important caveat, however: If you find yourself in a situation or relationship where you constantly need to do this, that doesn’t mean you should continue to endure that stress just to prove you can let it go. This is a technique to be applied to stuff in your “adapt” and “accept” quadrants; there’s nothing noble about placing yourself in unnecessarily stressful situations.
Consider a digital trainer — and affordable home equipment.
OK, onto the subject of fitness goals. First, if you can afford even a few hundred dollars and don’t have much experience at the gym, I highly suggest investing in a couple sessions with a personal trainer, if only to show you how to work the machines and to develop a few routines. Many gyms have deals after New Year’s, and I know that sessions with a trainer completely changed how I exercise.
That said, if an in-person trainer is too expensive or gives you anxiety, a good middle ground is the new app Trainiac, which sets you up with a real trainer, remotely. They do a phone consultation with you, develop routines for you to do at home and at the gym that show up in the well-designed app, and even check in to hold you accountable.
I’m also a big proponent of at-home equipment as a way to squeeze more fitness into your life. Get a mat that looks good enough to keep out all the time, buy a couple light hand and ankle weights, and plop yourself on the mat next time you watch TV. I do crunches, arm exercises, and even HIIT training at home that I would never feel motivated to do as often if I always had to get dressed go to the gym. If you suspect cold weather and/or social anxiety is a major barrier for you, consider this option. (Dancing wildly to music in the privacy of your room — as well as masturbation — are also totally valid forms of at-home exercise and self-love!)
Try temptation bundling.
I heard about the concept of temptation bundling on the Freakonomics Podcast a couple years ago, and I have to say it’s worked for me — with some repercussions, however. The idea of temptation bundling is simply to couple things you love and might feel guilty about treating yourself to with things you want to form a habit around…aka bribing yourself.
For example, you could park a little farther from an exciting date to get some exercise, or, if you dread responding to messages online but really want to put in the time to meet someone, do it only over your favorite latte.
A word from the wise: As with all your resolutions, be mindful, and make sure anything you seek to achieve is about putting yourself in line with your goals and values rather than punishing yourself.