New Year’s Resolutions

/ January 16, 2018

Happy New Year to all! May you have a healthy year, full of peace and love.

I always enjoy the inexorable change of the seasons, in a bodily way; it is a true reminder of my animal self. We are already past the longest night, moving towards Imbolc and thence to Spring. Imbolc (1st February) is a traditional Gaelic or pagan celebration day marking the beginning of Spring and there are indeed signs of new awakenings in the school grounds – the snowdrops and winter flowing cherry.

At the opening puja of the year, I spoke to the children about New Year’s resolutions and some of them have now written their declarations on paper stars and added them to the tree in our foyer. A resolution can be thought of as setting a goal or direction, which is different in some way from the past and ‘resolving’ to stick to it. It is, as most adults know, much harder in practice to stick to the resolution than it is to set it. If we are thinking of helping our children with their New Year’s resolutions we have to help them in both stages – the setting of the resolution and the sticking to it.

In terms of setting the resolution, I feel the skill is in coming up with an ‘SMART’ resolution. Although originally from the corporate world, ‘SMART’ as a mnemonic is a useful way to look at things:

Specific – a particular area for improvement.

Measureable – some indicator of progress.

Achievable – let’s make this ‘win-win’, so set the parameters so it is possible to achieve.

Relevant – is it worthwhile and does it meet your needs?

Time- related – well that could be the year (or forever).

It does feel quite business-like, but least the SMART mnemonic gets us thinking about these resolutions and how to go about it in a practical sense.

My New Year’s resolution is an acknowledgment of wanting to be more patient. How do I then start changing my impatience and stick to the new direction I have set for myself? This practising can include:

1. paying precise attention to when I am not patient, the situations or conditions that produce that impatience within me, and

2. being kind to myself for not being ‘perfectly patient’ already. It is wise to remind ourselves that we are not born patient and that practising includes making lots and lots of mistakes. I can acknowledge the almost instantaneous judgemental thoughts and feelings and again be kind to myself around these. Change takes time, effort and no small measure of gentleness.

My guess is that if we try to change (or help our children to change) any of the habits that don’t benefit us, or make us or them happy, that we will quickly come back to these two key areas – seeing clearly and precisely, and being kind to ourselves when we fall short.

We can think of this conscious habit-changing as working on our minds; in terms of neuroscience, it boils down to stimulating development of those neural networks that we want to keep and ‘pruning’ the ones that are not helpful.

Although, as adults, our brains less flexible, they are still capable of great change – it is possible. Our children have much more mutable brains and are rapidly changing anyway; guidance and help can only be of benefit. I will leave you with the reference to a most excellent TED talk by Jill Bolte Taylor, which covers some of this ground, that I am sure many of you are familiar with.   Happy changing!

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