Why Ancient Chinese Masters Saved Their Resolutions for Springtime

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If you’re like most 21st century humans, then you make your resolutions in January.

It never works, but you do it anyway.

Oh, don’t worry. You’re not alone. The failure rate for new year’s resolutions is about 92%.

What if I told you that the problem wasn’t with your willpower, but rather with your timing?

There is a better way to make resolutions — a method based on the wisdom of the ancient Chinese masters who discovered qigong, acupuncture, and feng shui.

If you want to learn about this method, then this article is for you.

What is a Resolution?

First, let’s define “resolution”:

resolution

noun

1. the act of resolving or determining upon an action, course of action, method, procedure, etc. 

In other words, a resolution is simply a firm decision that leads to action.

Humans are capable of making firm decisions that lead to inspired actions.

Although we normally associate resolutions with the new year, we can make them any time of year.

In fact, January is a terrible time to make a resolution!

This is good news for you! You didn’t fail because you’re broken; you failed because your timing was wrong!

The Ancient Chinese Approach

To better understand our failure with New Year’s Resolutions, let’s look through the lens of an ancient Chinese paradigm called The Five Elements.

Once you look through this lens, you’ll not only understand why you’ve failed in the past, but you’ll immediately understand how to flip your failure into success.

The Theory of The Five Elements is a philosophy that is central to many Chinese arts, including qigong, tai chi chuan, acupuncture, herbal medicine, therapeutic massage, and feng shui.

You’ve already heard of the grandmother of the Five Element Theory.

It looks like this:

That’s the symbol for the Theory of Yin and Yang, and it’s closely tied to the Theory of The Five Elements.

See the colors surrounding the yin-yang symbol above? Those actually represent The Five Elements.

When I was in acupuncture college, we spent months learning about the interrelated theories of Yin and Yang and The Five Elements. These theories form the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine, so they’re super important.

But luckily, you don’t need a deep understanding of The Five Elements in order to benefit from it. 

For example, I bet you’ve already gained perspective at least once in your life by viewing things in terms of a balance of yin and yang, right?

Maybe it went something like this:

“My work/life balance is unhealthy. I need to find more of a yin-yang harmony between them.”

Or this:

“That type of exercise is too yang for me. I need something more yin.”

We’re going to do something similar right now, but using The Five Elements instead.

A Quick History of The Five Elements

First of all, you need to understand that The Five Elements are not really elements. This is not a periodic table containing elements like hydrogen and oxygen.

The ancient Chinese masters didn’t believe that the cosmos was made of only 5 physical elements. 

The Chinese term Wu Xing (五行) is actually really hard to translate. Here are a half dozen translations, which I hope will help to give you a broader perspective:

  1.            The Five Elements
  2.            The Five Phases
  3.            The Five Agents
  4.            The Five Movements
  5.            The Five Processes
  6.            The Five Stages

The Chinese masters discovered that a wide variety of phenomena in the universe could be explained by a 5-phase paradigm.

These 5 phases were described using symbols: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood.

You’ll typically see The Five Element chart presented in this order:

If you want to learn more about The Five Elements, then please let me know in the comments section, and I’ll write more about them in future articles.

For the purposes of this article, all you need to know is this:

Each element has an energy to it, and each of those energies is associated with a season.

So for example, the Water Element is associated with an energy that retreats. In the Water Element, we see stillness and storage, like a bear hibernating in the winter.

The Wood Element, on the other hand, is associated with an energy that grows and sprouts. With this Element, we see new vitality and budding life, like flowers beginning to blossom in the spring.

The Wood Element

If you want to start eating healthier, then that’s a new habit that you want to “sprout”. That’s the energy of the Wood Element.

And here’s the crux of this article: New plants don’t sprout in January.

The Wood Element is one of growth, which is ideal for adding new habits. And the season for the Wood Element is springtime, not January.

I bet that you can feel the truth of this.

For example, in Florida, where my wife and I live, spring has already sprung, and it’s something that you can feel all around you.

In other parts of the Northern Hemisphere, spring will come over the next 1-2 months.

(If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, then you’ll have to wait to feel it.)

As spring blossoms, try to feel the energy.

  • Do you feel more alive?
  • Do you notice the morning air not only filling your lungs, but inspiring you?
  • Do you have more energy to do things?
  • Is it easier to make decisions?

There’s a reason why houses and desks are more likely to get cleaned out during the spring. Spring cleaning is a perfect example of the energy of the Wood Element!

And THIS is precisely the energy that you want for your resolutions, not the energy of winter and the Water Element.

When to Let Go of A Bad Habit

Notice that I specifically mentioned adding a healthy, new habit, not letting go of a bad one.

The energy of The Wood Element is for new growth, not for letting go.

The energy of letting go belongs to the Metal Element, like trees letting go of their leaves.

If you want to let go of of a bad habit like smoking, then your chances are better if you wait for the energy of the Metal Element in autumn.

The same goes for letting go of bad relationships, or quitting a job that is killing you.

By all means, make a firm decision this spring.

Decision making is associated with your Liver and Gallblader Meridians, both of which are part of the Wood Element.

That’s why it’s easier (but not necessarily easy) to make big decisions in the spring.

But if you want to let go of a bad habit, I strongly recommend that you don’t decide now, and then wait for autumn.

Remember that resolutions are not just about decisions, but about following a decision with action.

Make the decision now to quit that habit in autumn, but take action now — action that will support your habit later.

Why Adding a Habit is Better Than Subtracting

The research on habit-building shows that it’s far easier to add a good habit than to eliminate a bad one.

In other words, even if you decide that you’re going to quit a habit this autumn, you’re going to need all the help you can get.

Why not add a habit this spring that can help you to better let go this autumn?

I truly believe that qigong is one of the best habits that you can add, and that now is the time to do it.

Research is mounting that shows that mindfulness can help you to be more motivated to make big life changes.

And when it comes to mindfulness, it’s hard to beat qigong.

Even just 2 minutes a day of qigong will help you to be better prepared to make other, healthier changes down the road.

So if you want to let go of a bad habit, don’t just wait for autumn, but add a good habit right now.

Make a Smart Decision

Look back, and you’ll see that some of the biggest and best changes in your life came after making a strong, clear decision.

But you also DID something after making that decision. In other words, your decision or resolution was followed by action.

If you’re inspired to make a decision this spring, that’s wonderful! Just be careful not to write a check that you can’t cash.

Here’s an example:

“I read this great article online, and I’m inspired to make changes! I’m resolving to go to the gym 5 days per week, starting tomorrow!”

If you’re already going to the gym 3 days per week, then this is doable.

But chances are, you’re not going 3 days per week, or even 3 days per month.

If haven’t been to the gym since January 4th, then this kind of decision is a mistake.

Decisions can be powerful, but they have to be done right. Don’t just make a decision; make it a smart one.

The Beauty of Tiny Habits

As research grows on habit making, you’ll be hearing more and more a about tiny habits.

I’ve been talking about tiny habits for years, and I’m happy to see that the research is catching up.

In fact, a tiny habit saved my life years ago. That tiny habit was simple: 2 minutes of qigong every day, no matter what.

I recommend that you use the energy of the Wood Element to pick a tiny habit that requires little to no willpower.

Here are 9 life-changing habits that require zero willpower.

There are a bunch of options in that article, but I still recommend that you choose qigong.

Make A Change, Starting Now

If, right now, you decide to practice qigong for 2 minutes per day, and you follow through on that decision — then you will forever alter the rest of your life.

2 minutes isn’t a high enough dosage to give you the amazing results that my students get, but you’ll still get results.

And more importantly, it’s a habit! The #1 reason students fail with qigong is because they fail to make it a daily habit.

So start with 2 minutes.

Click here to start learning qigong right now, for free.

(If you’ve already got a 2-minute qigong habit, then resolve to do 4 or even 8 minutes per day — no matter what.)

It’s easier if you do this with a friend. Share the free course with them, and then the two of you can be accountability partners.

You don’t need to live near them. Just check in every week and keep each other honest with your tiny habit.

Or you can join our Facebook community and share your wins and struggles there. We’ve got a great group!

But act now. Take the energy of the Wood Element, and use it to sprout a new, healthy habit in your life!

Start now, with a clear conscience. Now that you know that it wasn’t your fault, now that you know your timing was off, you can let go of all your guilt from past failure.

What tiny habit will you add now that your slate is totally clean?  

Mindfully yours,
Sifu Anthony

I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world to use qigong for their own stubborn health issues. I teach online courses, and also lead in-person retreats and workshops.

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28 Responses to Why Ancient Chinese Masters Saved Their Resolutions for Springtime

  1. Mary March 28, 2017 at 8:38 pm #

    Hello Sifu,

    Can you give examples of or give more information on yin and yang exercises or forms? Thanks.

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais March 29, 2017 at 9:23 am #

      Hi Mary. I probably need to write an article on yin and yang to answer your question. But if I simplify things, we could say that Western exercises like cardio training are more yang, whereas qigong and tai chi are more yin. This comparison is not absolute, and what we’re really saying is that some exercises (like the Stairmaster) are more external and strenuous, whereas others are more internal and gentle (like qigong).

  2. Eric Olde March 29, 2017 at 6:11 am #

    Awesome article, Sifu.

    A very interesting new perspective. I’d like to read more related articles in the future!

    Hope you are well,
    Eric.

  3. Christy Brown March 29, 2017 at 8:28 am #

    Definitely interested in knowing more about the 5 elements.

  4. Debora Giarrusso March 29, 2017 at 9:39 am #

    Hello Sifu, I am very interested in learning about the interrelated theories of Yin and Yang and The Five Elements. Could you please suggest me a good book? Thank you

  5. Janice March 29, 2017 at 9:47 am #

    I agree there is so much more to learn about the 5 elements, even the food that you eat at certain times of the year affect internal organs that are also affected by the five elements…
    I love the way that you teach, you make it so interesting and easy to understand..
    Yes, give us more!!
    Jan

  6. Brandon W Hennig March 29, 2017 at 12:31 pm #

    Yeah, can you do an article about the five elements? Very interesting.

  7. Thxuycumcojvokb March 29, 2017 at 6:51 pm #

    Master; Why no air element?

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais March 29, 2017 at 6:58 pm #

      Call me Master Roshi or Master Shifu, not Master. (That’s a joke. Just call me Anthony.)

      The “Air” element is not from the Chinese tradition. That comes from the classical Greek or Egyptian model, and it’s totally different.

  8. Janet Levin March 29, 2017 at 10:42 pm #

    Anthony, I had to laugh, reading “new plants don’t sprout in January.” When I arrive in early December to coastal Mexico, the first thing I do is plant lettuces and other leafy greens. Sprouts are up in 2-3 days; and Winter Solstice generally feels like a time of new considerations! I’m making pesto and eating salads by mid-January. True enough, the local perennials really do take off in spring, but there’s plenty of life here in deep winter. Coming from north of the border, even though my neighbors in the village shiver in their jackets when night temps drop to 65 degrees, this is when my spring begins.

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais March 30, 2017 at 10:44 am #

      Of course, “springtime” is different the closer you get to the equator. Even here in Florida, there’s a huge difference compared to New York, where I grew up.

      Nevertheless, the lesson is the same: make decisions and add habits in springtime, whenever that is for your location.

  9. Keith Faddell March 30, 2017 at 9:26 am #

    I fully agree with Janice’s comment:” I love the way that you teach, you make it so interesting and easy to understand.Yes, give us more!!”

  10. Walt (@zenboxingman) March 30, 2017 at 10:03 am #

    Can one derive the same balance of the 5 elements by just practicing the 5 fists of Hsing- I ?

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais March 30, 2017 at 10:50 am #

      Hi Walt. When you learn more about the Five Elements, you’ll realize that they can’t simply be balanced by qigong or acupuncture or Xingyiquan (Hsing Yi Chuan).

      If you practice qigong and get acupuncture, but your lifestyle is at odds with the Five Elements, then they will be out of balance.

      Also, Xingyiquan was not designed to harmonize the Five Elements in your body. It is a martial art, and it was designed to use the Five Elements to improve martial ability.

      Xingyiquan is great, and will give you many benefits. But to harmonize The Five Elements, you’d probably do better with qigong that is specifically designed for that purpose.

      But as I said, even that won’t be enough if your lifestyle and other factors are at odds with The Five Elements.

      Make sense?

  11. Vera March 30, 2017 at 10:13 am #

    Please, more about the 5 elements.i am fascinated by the subject. And I know some exercises , also are they connected to the animal frolics exercises?

  12. Dariusz Gwizdowski March 30, 2017 at 4:37 pm #

    Brilliant Article Sifu.
    It’s always great to read something new about topic that interest me !
    If I may i would ask You to write article about 5 elements in You’re spare time. I t would be nice to know a little bit more about it.

    Thank You !

  13. Debora Giarrusso March 31, 2017 at 3:17 am #

    Sifu, why five?
    I mean, yin and yang are two, duality is clearly perceptible and understandable in physical manifestation…
    Less perceptible, less comprehensible, the third force, neutralizing, the Qi…but, thanks to you now I begin to feel it too!
    seasons are four, two equinoxes and two solstices, not five!
    In nature, in vibrations, also seven , the octave, is a magical number, regulating the ascending and descending processes.
    But five? I really cannot guess the meaning, and the link with yin and yang, of these five Phases, Agents, Movements, Processes, Stages… How do they origin? I am not able to perceive them in Nature.

    I’m a doctor in physics, and I love very much Qigong of which I read many books, but this thing of the five elements I never understood … please help me Sifu, with your clarity and your easiness to make people feel invisible things! Thank you, Debora

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais April 2, 2017 at 11:51 am #

      Hi Debora,

      Short answer: Because that’s what they discovered.

      Longer answer: Chinese numerology is a complex art.

      Different numbers have different meanings. For example, the number 108 is considered sacred.

      In this case, the number 5 represents one of change. Remember that yin and yang are constantly changing into one another. So the Five Elements are a balance of that.

      The question is, did the past masters force their numerological beliefs onto the theory of the Five Elements, or vice versa?

      Personally, I suspect it’s the latter. I suspect that they had a deep insight into the nature of reality, discovered the Five Elements, and then applied Chinese numerology later.

      Modern mathematics and physics is quite different. If you are looking to find the Golden Ratio or Pi in the Five Elements, I don’t think you’ll find it.

      Perhaps a better way to think of The Five Elements is like Newtonian Physics. Although Newton’s theories are no longer considered absolutely correct on a quantum level, they are still useful, right? In fact, if you are building a bridge, then you would find Newtonian Physics much more useful than Quantum Mechanics, right?

      The Five Elements are extremely useful, once you have a deep understanding of them. It doesn’t matter if they are true in an absolute sense because, like Newtonian Physics, they are useful on planet Earth.

      • Debora Giarrusso April 3, 2017 at 11:24 am #

        ok Sifu, received !
        I am going to study “the five movements” with this very empirical approach, and I will try to experience and feel what I will study … Thank you

      • Jeff April 5, 2017 at 7:24 pm #

        Also, as Sifu has alluded to, some of these meanings are metaphorical and their meanings are interpreted differently from time to time, place to place, and person to person.

        For example, in Chinese martial arts (particularly Hung Gar), there is the symbolism of the five animals: tiger, leopard, crane, snake and dragon. To oversimplify somewhat, the tiger represents strength, the leopard speed, the crane softness/elegance, the snake qi and the dragon shen.

        The tiger form develops strength, usually described as “bones”. Sifu Wong apparently used to interpret “bones” as “internal force”. Another teacher described “bones” as “sinew/tendon strength.” But when I asked one of my teachers why the leopard represented speed, she said it was because leopard trains tendon strength, which produces speed. So according to one teacher tiger represents strength because it trains tendons and according to another leopard represents speed because it trains tendons. The moral of the story? These terms are not always used with scientific precision.

        I can understand why snake represents qi, but I’m not really sure why dragon represents shen, apart from the fact that the dragon is a traditional symbol of wisdom in China. Maybe Sifu can add to that from his greater mental database.

        • Sifu Anthony Korahais April 6, 2017 at 1:03 pm #

          The Shaolin Five Animals is a favorite subject of mine, both in terms of theory and actual practice. In fact, this is my 20th year practicing The Five Animals!

          You won’t find a lot of agreement among masters regarding the “essences” of The Five Animals. Some of that is what I call, “two people talking differently about the same thing”.

          The Shaolin Five Animals that I practice looks quite different than what you see in Hung Gar. On the inside, I believe we’re doing similar things though.

          I plan to blog and teach more about The Five Animals, but it probably won’t be for a while.

          • Jeff April 6, 2017 at 1:40 pm #

            I look forward to that with great anticipation, Sifu, even if I have to wait for it! 🙂

          • Debora Giarrusso April 6, 2017 at 3:01 pm #

            Sifu, will you teach us the five animals in the 101 program?

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais April 2, 2017 at 11:52 am #

      By the way, not all cultures agree with you about the octave! There is such a thing as a non-Western octave, something that I studied in my ethnomusicology class in college!

  14. Chuck April 2, 2017 at 12:07 pm #

    Love your blog. Great job wrapping oriental thought with reality

  15. Sand April 20, 2017 at 12:11 pm #

    Hi,I sent you a mail using the contact form.

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