One of our favorite rituals associated with the start of a new year is resolving to change our unwanted behaviors or improve ourselves in various ways. While well-intentioned, more often than not our resolutions fail.
This year, instead of making resolutions, do something different: every day, ask yourself one or two deep questions, using a methodology called “self-inquiry”. The majority our thinking happens automatically and unconsciously. In order to make real changes we need a technique to bring our unconscious motivations, beliefs and other thoughts into our awareness. Self-inquiry does just that.
Effective self-inquiry relies on our ability to self-observe. Self-observation is the process of reflecting on our thoughts, beliefs and feelings, and noticing where our attention is focused. Instead of listening to our usual inner critic voice, self-observation is like having an objective outside stranger observing and describing our thoughts and feelings. For example, while self-observing you might say, “There is that feeling again. Whenever I feel this way I like to eat”. Neutrally narrating our inner state, without judgment or criticism, creates a state of self-compassion and deep learning and enables us to make real changes.
Let’s assume that you resolve (again!) to lose 50 pounds by losing at least 2 pounds per week. This is a declarative statement with only two possible outcomes: success or failure.
What happens when you attend a dinner party whose hostess is known for lavish meals and decadent desserts? Would you try to keep your resolution by declaring to yourself, “I won’t eat dessert!”? Or would you arrive hungry, eat a big meal and then decide to have dessert anyway since you already blew your diet? Afterward, would you feel guilty because you failed to meet your goal? How would that effect your overall commitment to losing weight?
Instead of making traditional resolutions like this weight loss example, ask yourself a question such as “How can I make healthy choices today?” This question reminds you that you are attending the same dinner party as described above. As a result of your question, you identify several options:
You choose the last option. During the dinner party, instead of mandating “I can’t eat this!” until your willpower runs out, you keep asking yourself, “How can I make healthy choices?”. You observe that you have a tendency to eat, even when you are not hungry, and this helps you make a different, conscious decision to stop eating because you are full. Now, you can inquire even deeper. What specifically causes you to eat when you are full? What are you feeling when you overeat?
Self-inquiry, combined with self-observation, is like the proverbial onion. One question opens another layer of questions resulting in more learning, and most importantly, different choices.
Here are some questions to consider asking yourself in 2016:
Self-inquiry and self-observation require a conscious effort to be effective. They are more powerful tools to effect change than just ordering yourself to behave in a certain way. Commit to the practice this new year, and you will be surprised by how many changes that you can make in your life.