Why Changing your Mind is the Only New Year's Resolution

If you're reading this now, you made it to the other side too. Happy New Year!

Do you feel different? All warm and fuzzy and sorta hungover? Did you write 2016 on something official yet and quietly curse at yourself? Or did you spend an unreasonable amount of time trying to decide on the best possible resolution for this new year?

Of course we fall into this trap - it's a lot of fun to make lists and plans of all the things we want to do with this new year of our short time here. Like wouldn't it be awesome to ride your new motorcycle with your best friend to a beach speckled with sea glass? Or be able to do a full split at age 30? Just me? Okay.
But what's the story here? Author Ryan Holiday has an idea and he calls it the Narrative Fallacy: "We want so desperately to believe that those who have great empires set out to build one. Why? So we can indulge in the pleasurable planning of ours." Ouch. Not so New-Years-friendly. Holiday continues, "So we can take full credit for the good that happens and the riches and respect that come our way. Narrative is when you look back at an improbable or unlikely path to your success and say: I knew it all along. Instead of: I hoped. I worked. I got some good breaks. Or even: I thought this could happen."

We want to believe that this year, from January 1st on, our plan for a perfect life will work out. And being someone that writes and thinks about this kind of stuff a lot, I definitely appreciate the wishful thinking. The reality is that there is always more. Bucket lists never empty. To-do lists are never done.

What we can do is break the narrative by continuing to change our minds. And not quite possible how you'd think.

In a conversation between neuroscientist Sam Harris and news anchor and author Dan Harris (unrelated), Sam said,

It’s amazing to realize for the first time that your life doesn’t get any better than your mind is: You might have wonderful friends, perfect health, a great career, and everything else you want, and you can still be miserable. The converse is also true: There are people who basically have nothing—who live in circumstances that you and I would do more or less anything to avoid—who are happier than we tend to be because of the character of their minds. Unfortunately, one glimpse of this truth is never enough. We have to be continually reminded of it.

Dan Harris figured this out climbing the ranks of the world news stage. For years he considered his ambition-fueled anxiety (or is it anxiety-fueled ambition?) as a weapon to edge out the professional competition. Until he started craving war-zone coverage and having panic attacks live on-air. Then, despite his hard-nosed skepticism, Harris found himself exploring meditation as something more than just sitting cross-legged, closing his eyes, and melting into hippie form, man. His journey became the book 10% Happier - How I Tamed The Voice in my Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found Self-Help That Actually Works - A True Story.

Quite possibly, the best gem that came out of the book for me is Harris' note about the nature of Buddhism and the Buddhist approach to life: 

The Buddha’s signature pronouncement - ‘Life is suffering’ - is the source of a major misunderstanding, and by extension, a major PR problem. It makes Buddhism seems supremely dour. Turns out, though, it’s all the result of a translation error. The Pali word dukkha doesn’t actually mean ‘suffering’. There’s no perfect word in English, but it’s closer to ‘unsatisfying’ or ‘stressful’. When the Buddha coined the famous phrase, he wasn’t saying that all of life is like being chained to a rock and having crows peck out your innards. What he really meant was something like, ‘Everything in the world is ultimately unsatisfying and unreliable because it won’t last.’

We've survived through enough New Year celebrations to know the magic fades. Life goes on. Instead what we can do is notice this ever-transforming reality, take a breathe, and lean right into it. You don't need to chant or lose your mind or start ending phone calls with "Namaste". Just breathe. And turn your attention inward. 

My resolution is to meditate more this year because if I want to choose something it might as well be a reminder that things will change and leave me wanting. And if you can change anything in your life, and in this new year, why not work to change your mind first?

Thirsty for more?:

Taming the Mind - A Conversation with Dan Harris