It’s that time of year again: the time when many of us engage in the practice of setting a new year’s resolution. In our family, sometime in the month of January, we each choose a word to focus on for the year, and sometimes we choose one as a family as well. Past examples have been- “connection”, “flexibility”, “gratitude” and “explore”. We write these words on a small poster board and hang it in our kitchen (always leaving room for more to come). This year we jokingly said we would need a white board for our intentions since so many of last year’s plans got tossed out the window. In the end, we chose words that could “work” no matter what happens in this crazy year, with choosing a word (or a few) to focus on, it is almost impossible to fail. Here are some tips from a Chinese medical perspective for more inspiration (ooh- that would be a good word!)
The typical method of new year’s resolutions is the prediction of inevitable failure. That as soon as you pick a resolution, you won’t actually make it through the whole year sticking with the new behavior, or that by the third week of January the resolution will be out of sight, out of mind. So, I wanted to offer some tips on how to join in the tradition in a way that might foster more success, by incorporating some wisdom from traditional Chinese medicine.
In traditional Chinese medicine, we take a holistic approach to healthcare and we want to treat causes not just symptoms. How does that apply here? Well, rather than focusing on a single, superficial measure of success like wanting to lose five pounds or wanting to look a certain way, consider selecting a resolution that affects how you will feel, instead of your outward appearance.
Rather than trying to cut out all sugar from your diet, perhaps you look to Chinese medicine and instead commit to drinking more water and incorporating warming foods (like squash, legumes or ginger) into your diet to support your digestion, your kidneys and your bladder – the winter organs according to TCM.
In TCM, water is the element of winter, which is said to store our reserves of energy. This time of year, with its shorter days and colder temperatures, is a time for rest and less activity, according to TCM. So, perhaps, in the wisdom of TCM, your resolution for the next few months might be to incorporate daily rest and sufficient sleep rather than trying to do or achieve more.
In the spirit of water’s fluidity, it is important to incorporate daily physical movement, but nothing too crazy. Find something that makes you feel good, not something that becomes a chore. Slow, restorative yoga is a good option as is taking a daily walk around your neighborhood.
Lastly, I like to think of resolutions more as intentions. Part of finding true health according to traditional Chinese medicine, is finding mental health. When you set an intention, it is less of an action or a task, and rather a phrase or idea that you can come back to in your mind throughout the day or throughout the year. It is something that will ground and guide you in times of stress or uncertainty.
An intention can be something as simple as, come back to the present moment, or practice compassion. In these simple phrases, an anxious or worried mind can find something to come back to and rest on, whenever it needs.
Setting a resolution or an intention can be a great way to foster growth and health, and the beginning of the year is a natural time to evaluate what we want to bring into our lives. But you don’t have to assume you will fail. Consider letting the wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine guide you to set an intention that you actually enjoy incorporating into your life, and don’t be afraid to change it throughout the year, as you and the seasons naturally change too.
Best wishes for a year full of growth and happiness-