It’s that time of the year again: Time break your New Year’s resolutions! Okay, maybe not yet. Maybe you’ll last a few more days, or even weeks. But chances are, you’re not going to keep those resolutions. And you probably know it.
Every year, millions of Americans make resolutions that, in their hearts, they know they’re not going to keep. Statistics show that a only small percentage of you will succeed. And yet, you keep torturing yourselves, year after year.
You mean well, of course. The new year is a blank page ready to be written. It stirs up our deep desire to change, and grow. And that’s a wonderful thing.
The Real Secret to Change
People sincerely WANT to change. I see this all the time in new students. I see it in their eyes — the fire, and the frustration. They are desperate for change, but unfortunately, they don’t know HOW to go about bringing change into their lives.
Most people think that change comes as a result of finding that mythical beast called Discipline. Even though they’ve been searching for it for years, even though it has eluded them all this time, they still hope to stumble upon the Great Discipline Creature. Maybe it’s around the next corner! Maybe, if I wish hard enough, it will show up and help me to lose weight!
Trust me — that’s not how discipline works. If you’ve been trying to add discipline to your life, then you’ve got it backwards. You don’t build habits from a sudden addition of discipline; you build discipline through the gradual addition of habits.
In other words, you gradually CREATE discipline by adding habits to your life. The key word in that sentence was “gradually”.
Why You Fail
It’s like weight lifting. If you are new to lifting weights, then you probably shouldn’t try to lift the heaviest weights in the gym. But that’s what most people do. Even though they self-identify as a person who lacks discipline, they go and choose something that only highly-disciplined people could hope to accomplish. In other words, even though they are out of shape, they try to lift weights that only serious weight lifters can lift.
Yes, it’s true that you lack discipline. And you need to work on that. But do you know how us disciplined people got that way? Not by jumping straight to heavy weights. Not by wishing and hoping. No, we got this way by gradually, gradually, gradually building up our Discipline Muscles.
How to Succeed
Quitting something is doable — if you’ve already built up some strong discipline muscles. If not, if your discipline is weak, if it’s out of shape, then it’s much easier to add something than to quit something.
And that’s the big secret to changing your life, the secret that great women and men through history have used to gradually build the discipline required for change:
Add good habits first.
If you want to succeed with your New Year’s resolutions, then forget about subtracting the bad, and instead add something good. Your chance of success is dramatically higher. Once you get good at successfully adding habits, then it will be much, much easier to subtract later.
Habits You Can Add Right Now
Here are 9 good habits that you can add to your life right now. Pick one or two, and commit for a month. Start small, and gradually build up your discipline muscles. As you get stronger, add more good habits. By the end of the year, you’ll not only have built strong disciple muscles, you’ll also have a bunch of healthy habits in your life. This how you pave the way to subtract bad habits in the future.
1. The 2-Minute Drill
Instead of resolving to quit smoking on January 1st (something that, statistically, very few people succeed with), resolve to practice the 2-Minute Drill every day. After 6 months with this good habit, you’ll be in a better position to think about quitting smoking.
Modern research shows that the single best thing that anyone can do for their health is to exercise slowly and often. The exercise should not be too strenuous, and it should be frequent. Walking every day is a great way to do this.
If you don’t yet practice Qigong, then walking is your next best option. It’s amazing how many people neglect a free and easy habit that can literally transform their lives. Have you ever seen people driving around searching for a parking spot close to the fitness center? I have. It’s madness!
Throughout your day, there are countless opportunities to walk. Park your car on the far side of the lot, get off the bus a stop early, get a dog, or just go walking with a friend every morning.
In the Zen tradition, there are three levels of charity. The lowest level of charity is to give material things, like money; the middle level is to give service, like taking care of elderly people; the highest level of charity is to give teachings.
If it’s convenient for you to give money, then give money. My wife and I give to Kiva, but there are many good choices. If you don’t have money, if you are between jobs, then give service. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, mentor a child, or just give random acts of kindness. If you are qualified, then give teachings. (Remember that unqualified teachers are part of the problem, not the solution. But good teachers can make a huge difference in the world.)
Why give? Well, it feels good, for starters. And in the Zen tradition, it creates good karma. This means that, by giving, you will also receive. In my experience, it’s absolutely true. The more I give, the more I receive.
4. Smiling from the Heart
This is probably the single best technique that I learned from my teacher. It’s as profound as it is simple. For those who have already learned the technique — what are you waiting for? Smile from the heart right now!
For those who have not yet learned it, you can get a taste of what it’s like to smile from the heart in my free audio lesson. It takes about 20 minutes, and you’ll finish feeling refreshed and energized. More importantly, you’ll have a new skill that you can easily turn into a habit.
5. Practicing Gratitude
Do you know people who have far less than you do, but are also much happier? (If you don’t, then visit a poorer country like Costa Rica. You may be surprised at how happy the people are.) What about people who have more than you but are not as happy? Despite having the perfect wife or the perfect house, they are miserable!
Happiness is not determined by the things or even the people in your life. No, what brings happiness is fully appreciating the things and people already in your life. In other words, those who practice gratitude are also practicing happiness.
Notice that I wrote “practice gratitude” rather than “be grateful”. I did that on purpose. Gratitude is an art, and it should be practiced regularly. There are countless things and people in your life that you can practice gratitude towards. Start right now. Think of something or something that you are grateful for, and then close your eyes and feel grateful for 1 minute.
Practicing gratitude is also perfect for a 30-Day Trial. Can you remember to be grateful every day for just 30 days?
6. Being Mindful
Zen masters throughout history have encouraged disciples to be mindful while doing their daily tasks. Whether the task was enjoyable (like eating) or menial (like cleaning), the student was taught to give his or her full attention to it. By being mindful, by being in the present moment, daily tasks become a form of moving meditation.
“The infinite is in the finite of every instant.” – Zen Proverb
Try it. Pick a habit that you already have, like brushing your teeth, shaving, or cooking. Now make a habit of being right here and right now with that habit. If you can remember to do it, and if you make it habit, then you’ll increase your work efficiency, decrease your stress, and improve your energy levels. You’ll also find that time slows down, and that life doesn’t just speed past you.
7. Building Community
People who are approaching the end of their lives never say, “I wish I had made more money.” Instead, they say things like, “I wish I had spent more time with my friends and family.”
Humans are social animals. We crave a sense of community, and we need it too. This concept of community is a huge part of the Zen tradition. Spiritual progress is always achieved with the help of a community, whether it is a monastery, a group of friends, or a school.
I’m a big believer in this concept, which is why I work hard to create a sense of community in my school. I love to see husbands and wives, mothers and sons, or even just two friends practicing Qigong or Tai Chi. It’s a great way to socialize and build community.
Some of the other habits that I mentioned above, like walking with a friend, or volunteering at a soup kitchen, will also help to build a sense of community. You can kill two birds with one stone!
Think of someone who wronged you in the past. Have you forgiven them yet? If not, then you are harming yourself with that negative energy.
Many people misunderstand forgiveness. By forgiving someone, it absolutely does NOT mean that you support what they did. Instead, it means that you are letting go of your own anger and resentment. In other words, you are healing the wounds that were inflicted.
If you don’t forgive, then the wounds don’t heal. And if the wounds don’t heal, then you are allowing yourself to continuing being hurt by what happened. In other words, you are CONTINUING the effects of that action rather than ending them.
Like gratitude, forgiveness takes practice. Don’t try to do it all at once. Instead, try to forgive someone 1% a day for 100 days. Or start with something easier, like when someone cuts you off in traffic. Make forgiveness a habit, and you’ll be amazed at how much lighter you feel.
9. Getting up Early
For many people, this habit is terrifying. The truth is that early-risers are made, not born. No offense to the night owls, but humans are meant to follow the rhythms of the sun. Sure, we can stay up late, or even work night shifts, but that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy.
If you are not yet a morning person, then it’s because you haven’t yet created the habit. It’s not easy, but it is simple: Get up with the sun every day, no matter what. You have to commit to getting up early for a few weeks so that your body can adjust. Don’t just try it for a few days and then give up.
For those who practice Tai Chi, Qigong, or Meditation, then I recommend that you get up early and then practice. At the very least, do the 2-Minute Drill every morning for 30 days (another great 30-Day Trial).
You don’t need to breathe deeply, or use any special technique. Just breathe. More importantly, enjoy your breathing. You can do it right now, sitting at your computer. Or go outside and breathe.
“You say that you are too busy to meditate. Do you have time to breathe ? Meditation is your breath.” – Ajahn Chah
Breathing is one of the simplest and most effective ways to meditate throughout your day. You can do it anytime, anywhere. You can do it while watching TV, while driving, even during a meeting. It may see trite, but it really is that simple. Make a habit of coming back to your breath, over and over, throughout your day.
To create change in your life, add good habits. Start now. Pick a habit, and start. I mean it. Start right now, this very second. Smile from the heart, breathe, feel grateful, or go for a walk. If you are serious about making changes in your life, then start building your discipline muscles right this very instant.