The new year is an opportune time to wipe away old habits from the mind and write new ones through making resolutions. Thinking about new resolutions is easy, but implementing and sustaining them isn’t easy.
A resolution signals the mind that there is a new and essential task at hand. Hoping that whatever we resolve to undertake will take root and turn into a beneficial habit is like throwing a seed into the wind and hoping it will grow into a tree. It takes time, energy, and persistence, as with anything worthwhile that we set out to do. These three factors work together to overcome a significant hurdle we face—the mind’s paradoxical nature.
The mind shows its restless and fluid nature whenever we concentrate on a new task. But, when we give into old, entrenched habit patterns, the mind shows an entirely different side. It fades into the background and makes it effortless to pursue old habits.
A new resolution arises in the conscious mind, while an old habit rises from the unconscious depths. We cannot easily remove tree roots from the ground, but its leaves can be readily plucked, resolutions come up against old habits, they stand little chance. The ever-present and powerful current of thoughts sweeps away resolutions. Since habit patterns have deep roots, they survive.
Habits cannot surface unless we give them energy. You may say, “I ignore my habit, I don’t give it my energy, yet it overpowers me.” This struggle is a common experience. Just ask a smoker who is trying to quit.
If we are fully attentive in the present, our energy gets concentrated in one place. When that happens, the mind and our old habits are nonexistent for all practical purposes. However, our attention invariably slips, and like rainwater that soaks through porous soil and feeds hidden roots, our energy returns to old habits.
The present is an abstract concept. We tend to relate it to chronological time, and whenever time enters the picture, thoughts of the future and the past crop up. Habits reflect the past, and resolutions reflect the future. Just like that, a portion of our attention gets diverted to thoughts about the past or the future.
Another method of anchoring our attention in the present is to bring our attention to a live, ongoing bodily process such as breathing. Breathing is a present phenomenon. Every breath is new. Without a past or the future, breaths come and go like the sun rising and setting.
The magnetic quality of sunrises and sunsets draws our attention and has a calming effect on us. Distracting thoughts fade, and it is as if we are one with the scene unfolding before our eyes. Similarly, paying attention to a few breaths, feeling each one as the chest rises and falls, brings about a sense of calmness. It is as if we are reaching a new equilibrium. Thoughts fade in that state, and the mind is not the dominant factor. But the moment our attention leaves the breath, an invisible force throws our attention back into the mind.
The advantage of transferring our attention to the breath is that we become immune to the restlessness in the mind. It is as if a curtain goes up, and we can’t see or feel distracting thoughts. In their place, a newfound stillness settles. When the concentrated energy of our attention meets this space of silence, it becomes the womb of infinite possibilities.
We can then create and destroy habits at will without waiting for four seasons to pass to make a new resolution. It can happen at any moment of our choosing. Like a pebble falling into a still lake creates ripples visible long after the pebble settles on the lakebed, any new resolution we make will ripple through the year.