Fulfilling New Year's Resolutions Doesn't Always Involve Willpower

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The start of a year is a unique time. It’s a time of clean slates and new beginnings. A time for focused self-reflection and for resolutions that can better our lives. Unlike most other times of the year, in early January our conviction and discipline for change are the strongest and our hope for attaining our goals the highest.

The changes we seek may impact any aspect of our lives. They may be the typical new year’s resolutions such as wishes to lose weight, improve personal finances, or advance a career. Other resolutions may include making a concerted effort to reach out more and connect with others. To improve our social health by reacquainting with old friends or perhaps finding new ones.

At the start of a new year we proceed with determination to create this fundamental change. We will ourselves to manifest them.

Using Willpower to Pursue a Goal

With our intact resolve and committed willpower, we start off strong. But for the vast majority sometime before the end of January, our goals are abandoned. The resolve gets sidelined by new commitments at work/school/life or other distractions we didn’t anticipate.

We may feel like a failure and beat ourselves up for once again not seeing our resolutions through. After the self-inflicted browbeating ends we may decide to table our initiatives for next year. Soon enough we resume our typical routine proceeding through life with no particular aim or agenda.

One big reason why so many goals are abandoned is that they are approached using only sheer willpower. Ask anyone who has ever dieted, they will tell you it’s nearly impossible to sustain focused discipline over the long term. The intent is easy, the execution is hard. When we pursue our personal goals dependent only on the reliance of our own fortitude, we usually fall short. We alone as individuals just can’t keep it up. We need outside help.

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Finding Moral Support

This help can be found in accountability and support from others. Moral support from loved ones is invaluable to not feel so alone in your pursuits. It’s a good practice to have others either join you in your journey or at least serve as the compassionate police to keep you on track. But there are limits to depending on outside sources.

Namely, these people have their own lives and goals to pursue. The inherent challenge in relying on others’ support is that your goal will always remain yours alone no matter how much support you receive. Ultimately, it’s up to you to keep your commitment to attaining it. You have to do the hard work.

Using Powers Stronger than Your Own Efforts

I don’t wish to come across as defeatist. Instead, I’d like to introduce another perspective on this topic. For some, this may be an approach that’s difficult to grasp and much less trust but it can end up being more effective in the long run. It avoids the grind of the relentless pursuit and the loneliness that often accompanies it. It’s an approach that surrenders the effort and the outcome to forces beyond one’s conscious self.

At the risk of sounding a bit esoteric, this is an approach to goal fulfillment that relies mostly on collaboration with the powers of your subconscious mind AND on surrendering to forces beyond your own efforts. It’s about using capabilities much stronger than your own concentrated will to manifest into reality what you are longing for.

I write of this approach with confidence because I’ve seen it transpire in my own life many, many times. The recipe involves a delicate balance of focused intention and attention (some of your own efforts are required), optimism, and an openness to new opportunities and experiences. All this then needs to be embraced with genuine intent and a willingness to surrender to the timing and manner of the outcomes.

Pursuing your dreams in this way is like holding a baby bird in your hands. You must care for it but you need to let it grow and mature in its own way. In its own time. If you try too hard to make it grow into what you want through your exerted effort, you’ll kill it.

Let me share with you a practice I have been following for over twenty years. It’s the execution of this method I am trying to describe. The reason I have faithfully followed this routine for so long is that it’s consistently impacted my life only for the good. With a dream/goal fulfillment rate of over 80%, I can’t deny its effectiveness.

Day of Reflection and Aspiration

Every year right around the first of the year, I plan a full day of reflection and aspiration. This is a time of quiet solitude to take stock of my previous year and look forward to the new one. It’s a time to evaluate honestly the year that has gone by, reminisce about good times, and reflect on the hard days. I take stock of what I experienced, what I learned, what I achieved, how I improved, what I gave, and what I got. I examine my life in specific life categories that ultimately make up the totality of my existence.

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This is a time to be honest and objective. It’s not a time to feel sorry for yourself for laziness or failures. I rate each life category on how well I am measuring up to the standards I determine. I use a scale of 1 to 10 with one being low and ten being high. I never have a ten and I never have a one. Within each category, I elaborate in writing on the highlights, lowlights, challenges, accomplishments etc. I get it all out: what happened in this life category this year?

From this exercise, I get an overview of my life from a more objective point of view. I see what areas I am fundamentally satisfied with and what areas I wish to improve upon. This helps me figure out my life priorities right now and with it some specific goals. This provides the fodder for aspirations for the next year and beyond.

At this point, it’s time to start dreaming. Dream big and dream boldly. At any point, you should not worry about the How. You only need to focus only on the What. The How gets taken care of mostly by cosmic influences outside your deliberate efforts. Stay with me, we’ll discuss that part later. Ask yourself: what do I want to come into my life?

Describe Your Perfect Day

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One exercise that I do that helps me better articulate what I want is to write out my perfect day from start to finish. I fill in all the details between waking up and falling asleep. It’s very important to be as detailed as possible. Where do you live? What’s your environment? What’s your schedule? What are you doing? Who are you with? What’s your mindset? How do you feel about your life?

Let’s use an example that is relevant to this blog. Let’s say you aspire to have more meaningful social connections with others. You wish to have a life full of genuine and rewarding friendships. First, you need to daydream in detail about what this looks like. Then you must write out what you’ve imagined. Where will you meet these new friends? What will they be like? What will you be doing with them? Picture yourself meeting them and having many rewarding experiences. Imagine yourself laughing together or engaging in interesting conversation or doing something fun. Create these movie scenes in your mind.

The Power of the Subconscious Mind

The reason this exercise is so important is that it implants your desires into your subconscious brain as if they are real experiences. This is the part of your brain that constantly works on problem-solving without you even realizing it. You know how you come up with a brilliant solution in the shower? That’s the power of the subconscious brain working 24/7.

The subconscious mind takes your direction and then works constantly to solve for the solution. By having this ideal scenario implanted in your mind, your brain can help you recognize resources and opportunities that you would otherwise overlook. You start to see opportunities without the effort.

It’s very important to visualize your desires as if they already exist. Picture yourself with your new friends as if you already have the relationships formed. This is the subtle but important difference between wishing and believing. Don’t merely wish for these new friends. Believe you have them, you just haven’t met them yet.

Your subconscious responds to this distinction. To further reinforce the imagined desire, I typically draw out a scene that best depicts my aspirations. I am no artist so stick figures work just fine. An alternative is to create a vision board on Pinterest.

Once you have completed this visioning in your mind and on paper or on any other medium that would be relevant, it’s time to put it away. This is where the trust part comes in. You can’t actively “work” your dreams. You need to surrender the desires to your subconscious brain which will go into problem-solving overdrive AND you need to surrender to other powers beyond yourself.

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Trusting What You Can’t Control

Here’s where it can get a little too woo-woo for some, but hear me out. I know this works because I have decades of proof. Whatever your religious or spiritual positioning, I urge you to trust that there are powers beyond your own efforts that can be a hindrance or a help to you in your pursuits.

Have you ever had chance encounters, deep intuition, timely resources, or serendipity step into your path in a way that was remarkably helpful and undeniable? If you welcome this “force” for whatever it may mean to you, amazing things can happen.

But the tricky thing is you can’t direct it. It’s beyond your domain. That is why when I finish this annual exercise, I close my notebook, I put it away, and then let it be. I do not purposely pursue my goals throughout the year nor do I revisit them to gauge my level of progress. The only time I determine where I have netted on any of my desires is at the next reflection and aspiration session one year later.

This sounds so ridiculous but I can attest to how powerful this process has been in my life. As I said, I have had about an 80% fulfillment rate. The interesting thing is that many of my desires came to fruition in ways that were different but better than I had imagined. The other 20% I chalk up to either misaligned goals (perhaps I desired something that would not be to my benefit ultimately) or timing. There is no time parameter for dream execution.

How It’s Worked In My Life

This part effort/part surrender approach to goal fulfillment has been nothing less than magical in my life. When I was in my mid-twenties, I was going through a tough time. My career was stalled after working really hard right out of college. I had recently lost my job through a layoff and I was a few unemployment checks away from being totally screwed. I had recently ended a long-term relationship that was a holdover from college and I wasn’t particularly close with my family or old college friends at the time.

I desired more than anything for a new beginning. I wanted a new environment with new people around me. My dream was to relocate out of my home state of Maryland and just start fresh. Because I felt so upended, I also specifically desired a mentor to offer me some guidance at that stage of my life.

Well within one week of my last unemployment check, a college friend contacted me out of the blue about a job at her company located in Chicago. I interviewed for it and got it. It ended up being just what I needed right when I needed it.

It introduced me to a whole new group of people which I am still friends with to this day. Further, within my first year, I was selected to be a part of the company’s new mentoring pilot program. I joined just a handful of their ten thousand employees located around the world to participate in the program.

That was quite a year for me. When I revisited my aspirations the following year, I hadn’t remembered that I had drawn a map to represent my desire to relocate from Maryland. But when I looked a little closer I was dumbfounded by what I saw. I had drawn a dotted line from Maryland to Chicago! At that time (of drawing the picture), Chicago was never on my radar. But in the end, moving to Chicago proved to be pivotal for my life as it was there I met my husband.

Timing is Everything and Nothing You Can Control

This is just one powerful example but I have many more that have continued to surprise me over the years. It’s very cool to look back over time and see how things have materialized. Sometimes it happens quickly, other times more slowly. Sometimes it shows up not as I expect but always as what I need.

Unfortunately, you cannot control the timing nor the ultimate manifestation. But this can be an unrealized relief because when you accept that you’re not entirely in control of the outcome, it takes the pressure off you making something happen. Again, your willpower and determination have no place here.

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Think of your dreams and aspirations as seeds. They need both an internal and an external catalyst to sprout. You water your seeds and provide them the sun and the nutrients conducive for growth. But then something happens within it, aside from your efforts. The timing and manner for the little seed to sprout are its own. You just need to attentively watch and be patient.

Reaching for goals is our way of continuously improving ourselves for the purpose of living the best lives we can. Most people who deliberately pursue them have a grit of perseverance that is admirable if not totally exhausting and eventually fleeting. By giving your life honest evaluation you can determine your biggest dreams worth pursuing. Then you can go for it by unleashing creative power both within you and without. Trust that it can happen and you will witness the magic show up in unpredictable ways regularly throughout the year...and beyond.

Take Action!

Plan your day of reflection and aspiration. Evaluate your life in all the life categories and determine your biggest dreams you’d like to manifest. Dream about it, write about it, maybe draw about it, and then forget about it.

Have you ever had dreams manifest without deliberate effort? I’d love to hear your story. Please share below.