The new year is nearly here, and not a minute too soon for many of us. I think we’re all looking forward to it with renewed hope and energy. The end of December is traditionally a time when we reflect and consider how we want to step into the new year.
As many of us are thinking about making resolutions for the new year, we often take stock of what was ‘bad’ that we want to change. But first, think about all the things that went well that we can be grateful for. Gratitude is written about so frequently for a reason. It’s powerful. And we should all have a gratitude practice year-round. Without having gratitude for all the gifts and blessings in our lives, we are almost guaranteed an experience that falls short of our dreams. But when we appreciate what we have, we transform ourselves and our lives, creating space for more blessings.
When I found out that a tendon in my ankle had ruptured and it would require surgery, I couldn’t immediately find gratitude for that situation. I was preoccupied with the surgery and all the details in preparing for that. Then post-surgery, I looked down and could see the immediate and apparent differences between the muscles in my legs, the size of my ankles, and the difference in strength and functionality. But there is so much to be grateful for! After all, I underwent a surgical procedure that was able to fix it! That’s a miracle in itself. And now that I have started to work out again, I am awed by how the tendons, ligaments, bone, and blood vessels all work in synchronicity to produce movement. It’s a symphony happening in my body, and the tendon heals and strengthens every day—what a gift.
A study conducted by the NIH (National Institute of Health) monitored what happens to your brain ‘on gratitude.’ NIH researchers examined blood flow to various parts of the brain while subjects summoned feelings of gratitude (Zahn et al., 2009). One of the many positive things they found was that these feelings activated regions in the brain associated with Dopamine. Dopamine is considered the “reward” chemical because it feels good, but it also incites action, meaning that when we feel grateful, our brain will look for more ways to bring about that feeling. Simply put, gratitude engages a virtuous cycle in your brain. Gratitude begets more gratitude. Before we go back to those resolutions, there’s another pre-resolution step that I think is guaranteed to set you up for greater success.
When we approach goals, we tend to take on too many of them at once, which can be overwhelming and leave us feeling stuck. This is why I champion people to focus first on how they want to BE before planning what they want to DO. For this, let’s use an example that is likely to resonate with many people. Fifty percent of New Year’s resolutions are to exercise more. Your To-Do list might read something like this:
- Get a gym membership
- Carve out an hour in the morning for exercise
- Work with a nutritionist
- Cut back on sugar
All of these things are very positive action items toward the goal of “getting in shape,” but the To-Be list looks different and is almost more important. It’s a list of all of the qualities you’ll need to embody to be able to tackle your To-Do list. Who we think we are and who we are are two different things and, because our thoughts create our experience, we want to make sure they’re aligned with what we want.
Who do you want to be?
- You want to be fit.
- You want to feel good in your body.
- You want to be disciplined.
- And the kind of person that makes your health a priority.
To accomplish that goal of exercising more, you might identify that you will need to be dedicated, accountable to yourself, and patient in seeing results so you don’t give up too soon. So there’s your to-be list. When you look at those qualities on your new to-be list, be brutally honest with yourself. Are those qualities you already possess? If yes, amplify them. If not, what needs to shift in your life for you to embody those qualities?
Simply by focusing on who and how we want to be, we become and embody those characteristics. Now you aren’t looking at a to-do list that looks like it belongs to a person who isn’t you. Instead, you become that person before planning what you want to do. And when you become that person, everything else falls into place.
Now you’re ready to finalize your to-do list based on your to-be list. Happy goal-setting and resolutions-making, friends!
Wishing you and yours a healthy, happy, and fulfilled year ahead. Happy New Year!