As my optimistic intentions for the new year start to sink or swim, I am drawn to the concept of resolve. Different from willpower, which scientists now say is actually a mental energy determined by how much glucose is in the bloodstream, resolve has its own quality, with less force or tension when it comes to making changes.
I recently attended a talk by Kamala Masters, a Vispassana Buddhist teacher, on this topic. She described resolve as steadfast and balanced determination, unwavering clarity of purpose.
Instead of teetering on the edge of failure, which relying on willpower always implies to me, resolve comes with a deep sense of stability. “It is not a strident oomph, but a gentle persevering energy,” she said. “It is really paying attention to the energy behind the aspiration.” When that energy starts to falter, she says, you notice and bring some strength to it.
One of my aspirations for the year is to spend more time writing. In my busy, time-strapped life it is a challenge for me to create the quiet, slowed down space I need to do this. But it is a goal that continually arises when I think of my long-term hopes and dreams. Willpower experts will tell me to set clear writing goals and plan for my writing time. These are not bad ideas and may prove to be helpful. But it may also be a set up. If I don’t achieve my goals or if I miss my writing time, does it mean I failed?
Resolve, in the Buddhist sense, allows for a more gentle way. I can set an intention without knowing exactly what the results will be. I will just commit to go in a certain direction. I will trust that this aspiration is heartfelt and I will try to honor that in some way, each day, whether by reading, writing, or paying attention to the details of my life. Wish me luck.