About this time every year I start to hear conversations about willpower, or it’s lack. Another holiday party, another splurge, another work-out missed in favour of a bigger, sweeter coffee… which becomes a very fine reason to polish off that box of chocolates… which is a do-not-pass-go moment to another beer and bollocks to willpower! Sigh. By this point in December, most of us have given it all up to the eat (shop!), drink (shop!) and be merry approach to the season. And we plan to mop up the mess with hard steely resolve in January.
If this is you, here’s something to consider about resolutions and willpower:
Ever notice how most resolutions are borne from a feeling of “should” based on a negative judgment of self? Classic: I hate my thighs so I should get to the gym. And I should lose 15 pounds. And since I’m such a bloody basket case, I should quit with the gluten like all of those cool cucumbers who can actually control themselves. Resolutions come to us from somewhere outside. They arise when we compare ourselves to others, and then think that we really ought to do this or that thing to make our “bad” self a bit better. More like her. And then we grit our teeth and harness all the willpower we can muster to make it happen. Starting Jan 1.
The will is like a muscle. Indeed, willpower gets stronger with use. But just like an over-used muscle, the force of will weakens and peters out with over-use. We’ve all been there, right? I read that only 9% of people who make New Year’s Resolutions actually see them through. The other 91% end up feeling like a miserable failure. Again.
Might there be a different angle of approach? A couple of Sanskrit words have helped me turn simple mind-based resolutions into something more powerful.
In Sanskrit, a sankalpa is a decision that you make with your highest Self. A sankalpa grows and blooms from the deepest desires of the heart, as opposed to from the mind and how it may think we measure up. One experiences this heart-felt sankalpa not as a “should do” but as a “must do”. It is built on the strong foundation of self-respect, self love, self acceptance, self-trust - never from self-loathing or a sense of lack. I love my body, so I must tenderly care for it with appropriate movement and nourishment and rest. And since I cherish myself, I really must do these things that bring me joy and delight and purpose.
It’s a beautiful concept, this sankalpa. Ayurveda teaches us that a sankalpa does not depend on will-power because it carries its own spiritual power, or shakti. And as you live in alignment with your sankalpa, you generate more and more shakti. Shakti helps you maintain the new practice, and to build others that also bring you closer to something you come to understand as your truth, harmony, goodness, balance, purity, clarity - your sattva.
Resolutions come from negative self-judgements of the mind, and are carried out - or not - by the power of your will.
A heart-felt sankalpa comes from deep self-love and is powered by shakti. It brings you closer to something true, sattva.
Think about your approach to these next few weeks.
Be good to yourselves, friends. Move through your moments with purpose and presence. Create future intentions from a place of love rather than lack or self-punishment. What new habits can you create in self love? What ways of being will bring you joy and peace? What will allow you to bring more light to others?
Follow your heart. Start now.