Resolve to Refine: The New New Year’s Resolution
If you’re one of the roughly 30 percent of Americans set on resolving for a better year in 2022, you’re likely looking to lose weight, get in shape, or save more money—classic ideals that have come to define our Januarys. And yet, despite our best intentions, the tradition of a New Year’s Resolution tends to go the route of online dating: fun to flirt, but hesitant to commit. In fact, only about 8-9 percent of people claim to stick to their resolutions by the end of the year, proving we might need to have “the talk” with our anxious-avoidant relationship with using the start of a new calendar to reform our lives.
The pitfall for most people when it comes to resolutions is that they’re not realistic. I mean that in two ways. First, there are logistical unrealities. Maybe you set a resolution to lose a certain amount of weight in a very short time period, which won’t jive with the reality of how our metabolism works; you may drop a lot of weight at first, but then plateau or even reverse after that initial loss, get frustrated and quit.
Then, there are resolutions that dishonor the very fabric of you. You want to become more organized, so you buy a bunch of pretty containers and notebooks—but your mind is still the forgetful, distractible thing it is, so the accessories get lost or become a jumble in your closet, making the situation worse. We are all capable of learning and changing our habits, but where Ayurveda can help you set a resolution that actually works is by starting with what is, and accepting our constitutions and tendencies as beautiful and unique, with both light and shadow sides. We do this by evaluating our qualities of body and mind, called gunas, and assessing the dominance of elements that make us who we are, called doshas. Are we more spontaneous or regimented? Do we relish in our meals or prefer smaller, lighter noshes? Is our skin oily or dry, our hair frizzy or glossy? There are endless ways to assess these gunas and doshas, and treating them all with a neutral and compassionate attitude will help you see whether something is just part of you or something that might be an imbalance you can adjust a habit to reform. Once you’ve wiped away the fog on the mirror of your life, you can use resolutions to refine what you see rather than transform it. Rather than trying to enact a body- or mind-transplant, turning you and your experience into someone else’s you may fancy is “better,” what if the resolution was a chance to look at yourself more deeply, lovingly, and wisely? Examine your daily routines, likes and dislikes, and areas where you wish to make a change. That thing is likely serving you in some way, even if not healthily, which is something to honor and respect. Instead of entirely eliminating that aspect of your life or identity, which will inevitably result in a sense of loss you rush to fill in with another habit (since that need will still need meeting!), what if you investigated the why behind that behavior or need? Unearthing the root cause may help you find a solution somewhere else entirely, that’s not only more successful but more true to your spirit’s needs. Getting to know yourself better doesn’t have to happen only in January; in fact, we’re setting resolutions, goals, and intentions all the time. You have ample opportunities to seek change in your life. In fact, being flexible with the origin of your intention is one of the keys to success. Starting a new life project when you’re in the midst of another (or several) might not end well, since your brain and willpower will be overwhelmed and less robust. While there’s never a perfect time for a change, commencing a project when you know you at least have the logistical requirements in place—child-care, the financial resources, the equipment or experts to help you—can give you a better foundation. That said, there is something of an organic reason why January became where the marketers of the world stuck resolution season. According to Ayurveda and other holistic traditions, mid-winter (which might be January, or more like February depending on where you live in the northern hemisphere), is the start of kapha season. This heavy, wet, and dense season generally benefits from a bit of fire under its butt—to help burn off the heavier foods we ate in fall and early winter, and also to help melt the accumulating snow and sleepiness of this time. Kapha can be slow to start but incredibly resilient; in fact, they really dislike change, so establishing a new, healthy routine in kapha season is more likely to stick! With the trees bare and the sky overcast, the simplicity and quiet (at least where nature is concerned; our modern lives are rarely those things!) of the season might also make it easier to focus on yourself, to really look at yourself and do that inner work in the dark phase of the year. Indeed, even the lunar calendar helps us undergo that process, with the new moon landing on January 2 this coming year.
The time to plant seeds and set intentions, the dark moon asks us to burrow into ourselves and nurture the soil from which we wish to grow. So whether it’s January 1, or some other time or dark moon in the first few months of the year, now is when nature is supporting our process of self-refinement. Nature never stops changing. Prepare to observe and change throughout the year as different parts of yourself manifest and need further different refining. Let that all be part of the year-long journey—to find balance in every season, and the flexibility to alter your goals and means of meeting them. Resolutions and intentions can be quantifiable, whether it’s related to a health metric or something else (like reading or writing a certain amount). But per Ayurveda, we get the most information about how something will affect us through its qualities. As such, we can also undergo the process of refining ourselves without measuring—calories, steps, or anything at all. Namely, this involves evoking a quality, essence, or even a substance that you want to experience more of in your life. One way to do this is choosing a word, or short phrase (2-3 words max) if you must, that embodies the quality of your refining process. When you choose a word as your resolution, you’re sending out a vibratory tone into the universe that invites that tone to reverberate back to you. That’s why you want it to be concise, rather than a whole sentence or description: Just like your SAT vocabulary list, once you get your word in your head you’ll start to see it everywhere—by design—so you want it to roll off the tongue, or flicker in your mind’s eye, easily. In this way, your word is also a tool for helping you refine your engagement with the world. Consciously and unconsciously, you’ll start to create and receive opportunities to engage with the meaning of your word all the time. It will become the light itself by which you see the world, the fire in which you forge the reality you want to live in. For instance, my word for 2022 is “beauty,” which I came up with several months ago. (That’s another tip for word-setting; you might start brainstorming ahead of time to try on a few words and see which ones light you up over and over.) I realized how nourished I was by even the smallest peeks of beauty—a bunch of flowers, the shadow of a tree branch, or an open field—and got hungry for more. Like a craving for chocolate when my hormones rise or water on a hot day, beauty was exactly what I needed to feel satisfied. And what became clearest to me after some time was how, if beauty was all around me, I could also work on seeing the sources of beauty inside me, too. Hence, the year of beauty is about to commence, and I’m eager to have this quality infused in both my long-term and short-term, outer and inner, life—the next twelve months, but also every day. What’s great about setting a word-resolution is that you can’t “achieve” it.
There’s no end to your engagement with this quality, so while your focus may shift, it’s never going to leave your consciousness. In the past, words like “truth” and “gather” have been my guides, which each turned out to echo even more widely past the one-year container in which I lived with them (some I’m just realizing now as I write this!). In this way, the word you choose becomes deeply ingrained in who you are, not just a fleeting trend. Like the layers of brushstrokes on a canvas, or the carvings a sculptor makes in stone, every time you say your word it contributes to the masterpiece of your life. There are few rules when it comes to this practice, so feel free to post about it on social media or keep it secretly etched on your heart. Either way, the attention and focus you give to this quality will allow it to blossom and flourish from within, revealing just how rich, deep, and ripe with the possibility the soils of your inner world really are. Jennifer Kurdyla is an Ayurvedic Health Counselor, yoga teacher, and writer. Plant-based since 2008, she learned to love food by experimenting with vegan and Ayurvedic cooking in her tiny New York kitchens. She is the co-author of Root & Nourish: An Herbal Cookbook for Women's Wellness (Tiller Press), and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Read more about her wellness services and educational resources at https://jenniferkurdyla.com/ and on Instagram @jenniferkurdyla.
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