New Year’s Resolutions and Self-control

Maxim W. Furek, MA, CADC, ICADC

Woman near an ocean doing yoga with the sun in the background

New Year’s is the time when many of us make resolutions to replace questionable habits with better ones. We decide to lose weight, eat healthier, drink less, or change countless other nagging and maladaptive behaviors. The New Year’s is symbolic of a fresh start. It provides us with renewed optimism to follow our dreams and live the life that we have always wanted.

But, how do we do this?

Ralph Waldo Emerson knew the answer, saying, “You are what you think all day long.” He reasoned that we are what we think. So did Deb Peterson, who wrote:

Your mind is a very powerful thing, and most of us take it for granted. We believe we aren’t in control of what we think because our thoughts seem to fly in and out all day long. But you are in control of your thoughts, and you become what you think about. And that little kernel of truth is the secret power of the mind. 

That “secret power” has been known to counselors and therapists for eons. It is the awesome knowledge that we have the ability to control our behaviors, but only if we can control our thoughts.

Thoughts can be good or not so good. They define who we think we are, far removed from the almost-perfect façade we offer to the public. They can make the difference between a life of joy or one of tortured mental punishment. Innumerable everyday thoughts, like toxic propaganda, can elicit a life-long negative impact. Thoughts control our emotions and feelings of self-worth, and define who we think we are.

But actions, the product of our thoughts, speak louder than words, and “By their fruits, ye shall know them.” People tell you who they are by what they do. If you don’t like yourself, that dislike will be cast upon others. Anger begets anger. Inner turmoil evokes disorder and confusion, while love and peace communicates in a special language of warmth and empathy.

There are age old techniques that can help us control our thoughts. Let’s take a look at some of these that, along with determination and perseverance, may lead to positive behavioral changes.

1. Assume responsibility. You are responsible for your thoughts and behaviors. When you blame others, you give away your power and authority.

2. Practice self-control. Self-control is like a muscle that needs to be exercised. Start with small manageable steps and gradually move on to more difficult challenges like chewing small bites of food or prolonging the time between cigarette breaks. With practice, you can gain amazing control of your behaviors.

Give yourself a positive affirmation every day and then pay it forward and give someone else a positive affirmation.

Use self-talk to gain control of your bad thoughts. Don’t expend precious energy trying to keep them away. Allow them to manifest and then purposively drift away. They do not matter. Replace them with positive thoughts. “Little progress can be made by merely attempting to repress what is evil. Our great hope lies in developing what is good,” wrote President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933). Let your mind be positive and inspired, rather than dark and ugly. Practice thinking positive and healthy thoughts. You can turn out-of-control into self-control.

3. Avoid “triggers.”  If certain people or places tempt you to engage in drinking, smoking or overeating, try to avoid them. If engaging in these behaviors at home is a problem, participate in activities outside of the home. Alcoholics Anonymous advises us to avoid certain “people, places, and things.”

4. Learn to relax. There are countless ways to embrace relaxation and certain ones may be better suited for you. Practice meditation through prayer or walking. Embrace the tranquility of nature. Try some type of martial arts, like tai chi or yoga.

5. Nurture your body. “A sound mind in a sound body” is an ageless maxim by the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Thales (Miletus, 624 – 546 BC). Increase your health. Decrease your level of stress. Eat the proper foods to promote good health. Diet. Fast. For many, exercise provides the key to a healthier and more fulfilling life of reduced stress. 

6. Track your progress in a daily journal. This process provides accountability to ourselves as it notes our progress and celebrates our accomplishments. It is an excellent document to read over during our dark days. “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know,” suggested writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961).

7. Stop being self-centered, rather be centered in the self. When you love yourself and others unconditionally, you won’t need to control yourself, because then all unpleasant things will be of no interest to you. It is the egoic monkey mind that makes you crazy and separates you from others and the divine source.

Listen to others and learn from them. Practice patience and tolerance. Focus on your breathing. Think, read, learn, and listen. Focus on what others are saying and not on how you will respond to them. Remember the words of motivational speaker Stephen R. Covey who suggested that we “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Practice the art of active listening, asking questions to clearly understand what is being communicated.

8. Embrace prayer. Prayer is the language that speaks to the soul. Prayer brings us hope and optimism. It casts away our sufferings, offering us a view of miracles and awesome possibilities. And it allows us to look at things in a different way, ringing our situation within a positive oasis of light. “Don’t worry about darkness, for that is when the stars shine brightest, said Napoleon Hill (1883-1970), American motivational author. He advised that we have the ability to transform a negative element into a positive one. Prayer is like that. It allows us to relax and to breathe deeply and gently. Prayer heals us in a spiritual glow and gives us the clarity to follow the pathway that will bring us the joy and the bliss we all deserve.

9. Make mistakes. It’s OK to go out and fail and make mistakes. Everyone does. “The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried,” is an ancient proverb that breathes validity into this premise. Failure plays a large part in the yin-yang of life. “Dare to err and to dream. Deep meaning often lies in childish plays,” said Friedrich Von Schiller, German author (1759-1805). Failure, that not-so-pleasant experience, leads some through a pathway of frustration, determination, and finally, success.

10. Start over. We always get a second chance to get it right. You can create your masterpiece, your symphony, your literary Nobel Peace Prize. Make every day a new day of possibility, or, as imparted by British author Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter) (1913-1995) “Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment.” Astonish yourself with your unique, one-of-a-kind awesomeness. Every day is another opportunity to start over again, to begin anew, to become the complete, actualized individual you are destined to be.

Keep on trying and keep on pushing on. Like a marathoner, keep on running those miles until you can say, “I’ve crossed the finish line.” Wherever and whatever that place is, is entirely up to you. It doesn’t matter. It is your call. As noted by author Samuel Smiles (1812-1904), “We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.”

Now is the perfect time to make that discovery, to take control and try something different. You can design your life to be what you want it to be. Life is about breathing in the moment, about living and not just surviving. A mind filled with possibility, built, not on fear and doubt, but on courage, and hope can provide us with a new energy and a new beginning.

Maxim W. Furek has a rich background that includes aspects of psychology, addictions, mental health and music journalism. His book The Death Proclamation of Generation X: A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy of Goth, Grunge and Heroin explores the dark marriage between grunge music and the beginning of the opioid crisis. www.shepptonmyth.com