As I watched a New Year’s Eve countdown TV show broadcast from New York’s Time Square, a question the hosts frequently asked guests was a familiar one: What’s your New Year’s resolution? It’s now a few days into the New Year and I suspect that many well-intentioned resolutions made on New Year’s Eve have already been broken. Others will soon fall from memory as day to day routines resume after the holidays. In the end, many people will be left with a sense that making goals for change really aren’t worth the bother. There’s a sense that even with good intentions, we simply don’t change our habits or patterns in life.
Understanding the process of personal growth and self improvement can lead to taking more effective steps to becoming a better person. One very important dimension of the process of self improvement has to do with the goals we set for ourselves. Goal setting is a key to making and keeping New Year’s resolutions. In that process, there are some important ingredients to achieving goals:
1. A goal needs to be specific and clear. For example, setting goals like meditating more often or losing weight are vague. It’s difficult to measure success so it’s easy to feel like one’s failed. It’s more helpful to set clear goals, like to meditate for 15 minutes three times each week or to lose two pounds per week for four weeks. Achieving the goal becomes very clear. In addition, when the goal is clear, we know what we need to do to get back on track when we don’t make the change we want.
2. Break large goals into small goals. Large goals are overwhelming. There are often many factors beyond our control that influence the outcome of large goals. But when we break large goals into a series of small goals, we begin to make progress for our own improvement. Recognizing that we’ve succeeded in small steps gives us renewed energy and commitment to keep moving forward.
3. Research into behavioral change has shown that it takes people about a month (21 to 28 days) to incorporate a new change in life. In other words, to incorporate something new into your life or to put an end to a habit you want to change, it takes daily effort for about three to four weeks. That time frame is helpful for most people. Change becomes something I can accomplish if I keep focus on making the change for four weeks. By the end of the four weeks, I’ll have a new behavior pattern.
While the basic aspects of setting goals to make changes in our lives are important to remember, I find that the biggest challenge for most people is to keep a reasonable perspective about personal growth and change. We live in a world in which things happen quickly. We have grown used to things in our lives being quick, easy, and convenient. It’s rare for personal growth to happen quickly. Instead, we grow into becoming better people over time.
We’ve all heard stories of people who make miraculous changes in life in what seems like an instant. Perhaps that even happened in some way for you. But those are exceptions to typical patterns of growth. Just as it takes time for a seed to sprout, the shoot to grow, the bud to form, and the flower blossom, so too with us, growth is measured in small changes over time. Generally, we get a better sense of our growth by looking over our life course and realizing that there are small noticeable differences that contribute to making us better people.
These small noticeable differences are particularly important when considering spiritual growth and development. The process of regular spiritual practice doesn’t bring instant change to our lives. It’s in this slow process that we become more focused on living in the present moment and aware of the wonder of life in and around us.
We each have the capacity to become better people than we already are. The process of becoming better, more whole, and more compassionate begins with our commitment to grow. Growth takes time, but it leads to greater levels of contentment and fulfillment in life.
© 2014, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.