The art & science of New Year resolutions making by Marlene Smits


For so many of us, the end of a year is a time where we naturally take stock of our lives. We assess what works for us, what doesn’t and what needs to change. Often these end-of-year musings lead to a list of goals for the New Year. But looking back on other New Years resolutions list, I think most of us experience difficulty in making our ambitious lists into a reality. So why does this happen? Even when we think we have all the determination and motivation to achieve our goals.

Changes are hard

When it comes to changes in our lifestyle or habits, it seems there is nothing harder. And psychologists can confirm this with stacks and stacks of research. Peter Gollwitzer, a psychology professor at New York University says that it is not enough to have a resolve or determination to change something in your life. We need to decide on how, which is the key to success. He calls this the IF-THEN strategy. Say you want to limit or quit your alcohol intake. IF my friends offer me drinks, THEN I will answer, I think I prefer a glass of water today. When you work out what issues obstruct your desired changes, the IF-part, and then you can clearly define the THEN part. When you know that you have a response decided and planned it is so much easier following through on your changes. A colleague of Peter Gollwitzer has developed the WOOP app (Wish – Outcome – Obstacle – Plan) which helps to identify the IF parts and offers a step by step guide to help you with the then plans.

Big goals

Another thing is that sometimes we have pretty big goals that are so far away from our current reality. It’s not that we should not pursue these dreams. But when our dreams are so big, that we don’t really see how we get to where we want to be. In yoga, there is a term Sankalpa. Sankalpa translates as resolve or stepping stones. So instead of creating and visualizing one big achievement or goal, create 5 smaller goals that are on the road to your dream. This way you can easier navigate the steps that you need to take. It will also make you feel good when you achieve the first mini goal. It will motivate you to go on.

Let’s take something seemingly trivial, but with a great impact on your health. For some reason, I used to be a big sugar addict, and I didn’t really realize it for years until I did of course. But when you are so used to the taste and level of sweetness of your intake it is quite hard to go to using no sugar at all. The step was too big for me. So I decided to be kind to myself and treat myself as an actual addict. I was going to do this step by step. So I first transitioned to brown sugar, then to honey, then to stevia and coconut blossom sugar and finally to nothing. What I also did was very slowly bring down the level of sweetness, so that I would get used to the new taste. Now a couple of years later, I don’t use sugar at all and use dates or coconut blossom sugar only rarely when the recipe really needs it. The journey was, however, a process, and it required patience, but it was not hard. I didn’t feel like I was punishing myself, as you can sometimes feel when you do something that you know is good for you, but doesn’t feel very pleasant.

Coming back to the stepping stones and the practice of Sankalpa. It is a positive intention or resolve that you use during your yoga (nidra) practice, which you repeat internally. You can, for instance, use your in breath during your sun salutations to breathe in your intention. But your Sankalpa goes deeper into your subconscious system during meditation or yoga nidra practices. The idea is that, as with affirmations, you should be short and in present tense, as if you have already achieved your intention. Let’s say you have issues with stress and would like to find more inner peace.

1. I am able to deal with stress with ease
2. I can respond to people with calm and kindness
3. I can tap into peace and calm whenever I need
4. I am safe and all is well
5. I radiate love, peace and kindness

Creating this reality in your inner space is helping to create it in the outer world. An important thing to realize is that a Sankalpa, since it is part of a spiritual practice, is always a positive statement and will not only contribute to your happiness, but to other people’s happiness as well. It is a great tool when you want to make changes in your thought patterns and automatic responses.

Creating new habits

Aristotle said: ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is therefore not an act, but a habit.’ So essentially, we are our habits. And as we discussed making changes in deep-rooted patterns of thought and behaviour are hard to make, but certainly not impossible. For me combining practices that will guide the change in both the conscious and the subconscious mind are the most powerful. As Aristotle said, we are what we repeatedly do. The repetition makes the habit. The repetition allows you to grow more neurons and create new neurological pathways. So it is also great for your brain. The repetition is what will create the habit. In Kundalini yoga we say that it takes a minimum of 40 days to create a new habit. That’s why when we practice a kriya, we do it for 40 days at least so that it really becomes part of you. That is why I would like to share a meditation for change with you that will help support the changes you would like to make in your life. I hope that you will find it of value.



Text & Video: Marlene Smits