Happy New Year to all of you dear readers. I hope that your recent traverse through the holidays was filled with warmth, love, and joy. And now that we have crossed the threshold into 2022, many of us are making new year resolutions to lose weight, save money, quit smoking, and surrender all of our bad habits while taking up all of the good habits we feel should have been doing for nearly as we can remember thinking about resolutions and change.
Making this a Mindful 2022
When we become aware of a need for change we are responding to very real and important information. Some of us who have been active become aware of being more easily winded while doing simple activities. Or, our muscles feel restless and tight, sending signals that the body wants to move. These are signals telling us that our bodies want to move more often, as one example. Loneliness may tell us that we need to reach out to our friends or family for connection. Our conscience will signal us when we are lost in exaggerated anger or resentment about life circumstances. The overdue notice will definitely tell us that we need to clean up our financial responsibilities. We all get the signals from our minds, bodies, and relationships, and often from external sources such as friends or creditors. And each signal presents us with an opportunity to correct patterns that may be harming us in any number of ways. The New Year Resolution is ubiquitous. We all do it at one point or another, and this reflects our human desire to grow, mature, to improve. And yet, most of us give up on our resolutions by February, and even more of us give up by March, leaving only a very small vanguard who trudge onward to achieve the goals set for themselves.
What Can We Do?
To carry on toward our goals this year, we can turn toward DBT core mindfulness skills:
- Willingness over willfulness
- Focus on effectivenesss
- Cultivate wise mind
Willingness vs. Willfulness. Willingness is a stance of yes toward reality and our lives as they are in the present. This saying yes opens us to adversity and achievement. Willingness is cultivating a seriousness toward oneself balanced with the lightness of existential agility to move with what is and toward what can be. Willfulness is a closed state. It blocks, judges, resists, and fights what is and tends to trigger passivity or attempts to forcefully control through sheer willpower and other means that end in self-sabotage. Too often we get stuck because we expend our intrapersonal/internal energies on judging and fantasizing, rather than factually assessing and embodying change with meaningful action. Willingness keeps us flexible and moving, even when we fall or drift off course. We stand up. We get back on course, as often as needed.
Focus on Effectiveness. Many of us get in our own way by clutching unreasonable expectations closely to our chests. We feel a rightful inspiration to move and grow, and sometimes get carried away with welding ourselves to these ideals in the form of mental stasis. With mindfulness skills we can loosen our expectations, and let ourselves also count the costs by way of listing out how we may be challenged, to open our hearts, too, to the need for self-compassion. Mindfulness practices help us to turn our focus toward doing what works, nothing more and nothing less. We neither roll over and wallow in self-indulgent self-pity in which we treat ourselves as helpless, nor do we castigate ourselves as incurable failures. Rather we seek the between. We hold fast to a relentless commitment to growing into new behaviors, and we hold fast to self-compassion, tenderness for ourselves. Little by little, day by day and moment by moment, allow these seemingly small movements to accumulate in their larger effects.
Cultivate Wise Mind. As we cultivate wise mind we look for the best courses of action each day as we consider our goals in the light of our values. We consider what in fact is good for us. If we’re quitting cigarettes (as our example behavior), we already know factually, medically, in our reasonable mind, that smoking harms us. As we acknowledge emotion mind, we can adopt a tender disposition toward our ongoing desire to smoke. We can better avoid the relapse traps of euphoric recall as well as the inevitable angst of nicotine withdrawal, nagging us toward cigarettes to ease the pain they cause (such a trap!). We can turn toward self-soothing and self-validation. And if we slip and smoke, we don’t have to throw our hands up in resignation. We come back to acceptance, self-compassion and remember our whys for quitting. We enter change as a process rather than as all or nothing, which is willfulness, that ultimately frustrates us into giving up.
With DBT skills, from core mindfulness to emotion regulation, and from distress tolerance to interpersonal effectiveness, we can make 2022 a wiser year, rich with meaning, love, and connection. Remember to practice, practice, practice.
To learn DBT skills for everyday use, read Scott’s book, Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Put You in Control
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