New Year’s resolutions focus on mere symptoms — overeating, lateness — of our disconnection from ourselves and others. They are bound to fail. But this time-tested method — taken from the best traditions of self-help — can turn your 2014 into a genuinely more meaningful year for you in all areas of life. Here are five simple steps.
1. Try being a little kinder
Toward the end of his life, the 20th century novelist and spiritual journeyer Aldous Huxley was asked by a reporter to name — out of all the Eastern philosophies, psychedelic experiments and human-potential exercises that the British intellectual had attempted — the one best method for inner development. “Just try being a little kinder,” he replied. Huxley wasn’t being glib — he was entirely serious. Christ, the Buddha and the Talmudic sages alike recognized kindness as a revolutionary act.
2. Be unsparingly honest about personal goals
What if a genie promised you a wish, but with a catch: you had to tell him the truth about what you really wanted — otherwise you’d lose everything. We internally repeat what we want to believe about ourselves (“I enjoy my work”) but rarely with self-scrutiny. Make a list — every day — of what you truly, deeply want out of life. Revise it repeatedly, until you feel you are being unflinching honest about your desires. This doesn’t mean becoming Walter White, but you should know what you really want. You may be surprised where it leads you.
3. Radically forgive even cruel people
Nelson Mandela did not bring justice to South Africa so much as he brought forgiveness and reconciliation. The thirst for justice often translates into vengeance, which is life withering on both a national and intimate scale. Observe New Year’s Day in a radically new way by making an authentic effort to forgive everyone — yes, everyone — who has ever hurt you. If you can honestly attempt this — and it may require a lifetime of repeat tries — you will begin to experience a new sense of inner calm.
4. Express gratitude daily
As Joni Mitchell sang, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” These words are prophecy. We bypass incredible blessings each day. After actor Christopher Reeve was rendered quadriplegic in an accident, he observed: “I see somebody just get up out of a chair and stretch and I go, ‘No, you’re not even thinking about what you’re doing and how lucky you are to do that.’” Every morning — no matter what stresses you face — enumerate at least three things for which you are grateful. It will set your day on a different track.
5. Commit to civility
We live in an era of “global cooling,” in the words of therapist Piero Ferrucci. A stifling degree of cynicism and coarseness abounds in e-mail, texts and postings. Humiliation, gossip and snarkiness emanate daily from reality TV, political talk shows, and radio shock jocks. Take one radical stand: Commit yourself to civility in all communication. Compose every text, e-mail and posting as though it were addressed to someone you love. The effects may go beyond anything you would expect.