“This year is going to be different!”
“I WILL sustain my goals beyond January!”
January is an interesting month – some of us feel a sense of renewal with this “fresh start,” whereas others see it as another month with nothing magical happening when the calendar turns. Regardless of how we feel, there’s a tendency to want to set goals, identify resolutions, and see January 1st and onwards as a new beginning.
There’s only one small problem…you’re the same person on the inside as you were in December.
Within the field of modern psychology, there’s an abundance of articles about how to enact change in our life.
“Do this, not that!”
“Try these five simple steps!”
“It only takes three weeks to build a new habit!”
We’ve been programmed to think that gaining knowledge will result in the long-lasting behavioral change (hint: This is the theory of behaviorism that defines so much of modern psychology). That acquiring information and combining this with certain actions is all we need to become better versions of ourselves. The emphasis is on doing in response to external stimuli, and not so much on being. And it is only by focusing on being that we can shift our actions.
Regardless of whether or not you ascribe to a religion (my work is rooted in Islamic perspectives), there’s something we can take away from 1500 years of wisdom, and more from centuries of traditional, Eastern-oriented frameworks. And there’s one teaching in particular from Islam that can dramatically shift how we approach our self-work:
What does this verse mean?
Well…it means that the state of who we are as people, and how we engage and interact with others and the world around us, will not change until we change the condition of who we are on the inside. And this means addressing our spiritual core – our heart, our connection to God or the universe, or our higher purpose – the consciousness within us.
What does consciousness mean?
If you were to ask the average person what they consider to be the center of the human being, the brain is often the response. And sure, while our brain keeps us alive and allows us to do all sorts of amazing things, what about what really defines who we are as a unique person? We’re not just a bunch of neurons walking around in a physical body – we have been created for a greater purpose, and our time on earth is precious.
And if we want to live according to our higher purpose, and vibrate at a higher energy level rather than reacting to what the world throws at us, we need to turn our focus on our heart. Because it is only by addressing the heart – by healing wounds, practicing mindfulness, being aware of our inclinations and intentions, our actions, and holding ourselves accountable for continuous inner work – can we begin to connect with who we really are.
You’re probably wondering what this could tangibly look like? Here are a few suggestions:
- Gain awareness of what you would like to work on. Focus on your inner thoughts and feelings, not so much actions/behaviors. Reflect on what is holding you back from living as your full and complete self? Unhealed trauma? Unrealistic expectations of yourself and others? Defining yourself as how productive you are?
- Practice stillness. You can only gain awareness over your internal state by withdrawing from the sensory-overload world that we live in. Find a quiet space in your home, place your electronics away, close your eyes, and breathe. Allow thoughts that pop up to drift away without entertaining them. Focus on your breath if you need to remain focused. Perhaps visualize a beam of light emanating from your heart, out into the world.
- Set a contract with yourself and your Creator, higher purpose, etc. Write down what you want to address within you, focusing on your inner journey INDEPENDENT of what you think society wants you to be. Is it separating traumatic experiences from your identity? It is taking ownership over your healing journey? Is it owning how you show up around others and realizing that you’re in control over this? Is it learning how to say “no, I can’t right now, maybe later”? It is shifting internally to realize that YOU are the greatest work you’ll ever do?
- Take account of your inner thoughts and feelings during the day, perhaps in the morning and evening. As you reflect on the self-contract you created in step one, how did you do today? Note down moments of insights, and bring gratitude to them. And notice moments of lower-self thoughts, how this made you feel, and what can be done to redirect them in the future.
- Note down who can be a part of your supportive, inner circle. They can be close friends, colleagues, family members, or professionals. As much as independence is valued, we are a collective species, and we need the company of similar people who are on the same journey.
We all need to heal and rediscover who we are at our core, independent of external influences. So rather than focusing on new year “resolutions” or thinking that this January will be different when we’re the same person as the month before, how about we take a new approach? Create space and time to reflect on your inward state, reflect on what a higher version of yourself would look like, and remember that this internal work is ongoing – beyond January and the new year.
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