Sankalpa (Sanskrit: संकल्प) means conception or idea or notion formed in the heart or mind, solemn vow or determination to perform, desire, definite intention, volition or will. In practical terms, the word, Sankalpa, means the one-pointed resolve to do or achieve; and both psychologically and philosophically, it is the first practical step by which the sensitivity and potentiality of the mind is increased; it is known as the capacity to harness the will-power and the tool to focus and harmonize the complex body-mind apparatus.
This sounds familiar, almost like a New Year’s resolution: a goal most people set outside the normal operating pattern of their lives. But as most of us know, the New Year’s resolution becomes a burden and after a month or two, is proverbally tossed over the side of a ship, like some unwanted object and far from our sight and mind.
So why do we do this? Why do we feel the urge to come up with a New Year’s resolution, no matter how well-intentioned, only to torture ourselves and set ourselves up for failure? The answer: our sanklapa is not reasonable, compassionate, or well-thought out. What to do?
Begging for Change
As a culture, making a resolution as we embark on the new year seems almost obligatory. And deep inside, we feel that before the turn of the year we desperately want and need to see something new in our lives: a change, something to demarcate this next year and propel us into a more progressive and meaningful existence. But when we leap into a change mechanism that is so difficult, we will most certainly bounce back to where we began with all changes lost or the resolution itself abandoned in despair.
The solution to this desire and motivation for change is to create that reasonable sankalpa, and be compassionate yet determined in the execution. Firstly, this means making sure that it is firstly reasonable. It doesn’t mean you can’t reach for the stars, but if you don’t have the rocket you aren’t getting off the ground. You have to build up the mechanism to see your resolve through, and it needs to be done in stages.
Firstly, your resolve or sankalpa needs to be firmly defined and established in your mind. Once this seed is planted, it needs to be cultivated. It is simply not enough to state some lofty goal and then leave it to grow without a plan: it will wither and die. Any resolve will involve a change in behavior/habits which is not always easy to achieve. James Clear gives us a peek into some scientific data generated by a health psychology researcher, Phillippa Lally, to back that a new behavior or habit takes some time to come into its fullest form:
On average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In [Phillippa] Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.
In other words, if you want to set your expectations appropriately, the truth is that it will probably take you anywhere from two months to eight months to build a new behavior into your life — not 21 days. 
Is it any wonder why many people sign up for gym memberships and plunge into diets only to abandon them halfway through the year? The halfway point in the year is during the first week of July at around 182.5 days. By then, we all know that most people have forsaken any New Year’s resolution. But if we compare that timeline with what Lally gives us from her research, we are nowhere near the 254 days for the maximum length of time it might take us to achieve a new habit or life change. This is where sankalpa steps have to come in, along with compassion.
As we identify that resolve that will be our very own, we have to firmly establish that it will be achieved in smaller time segments: seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, etc… We need to celebrate the baby steps of victory, it’s not all or nothing. Furthermore, we have to make sure that we have given ourselves the tools or opportunity to be able to head in that direction. No rocket, no spaceflight. If we set out to do anything, it should at the very least have these components involved in the plan:
- Create your sankalpa. It should be a short, positive statement of something you wish to come true in your life. Don’t make it unreasonable, unattainable, or something that doesn’t suit you. It has to be something that resounds in your soul spark, not something your neighbor is doing.
- Establish the mechanism by which this will be possible to achieve: plan! If it is a diet, extra work needs to be done to make sure the right food is in the house and there is extra time to prepare it. Whatever it is, you will fail if you don’t make a plan to allow for it to be possible and exact it daily.
- Make the sankalpa a mantric verse and repeat it several times upon awaking each morning. Keep it ever before you throughout the day.
- Make at least 10-30 minutes for meditation daily and gauge where you are. Don’t be judgmental regarding yourself and your progress: there will be highs and lows in your striving toward your goal. Find where you are strong and where you are weak and simply take note.
- Practice pranayama for 5-15 minutes daily to infuse the body with prana. Prana helps to give us the physical and mental strength to strive, to reach, to flourish.
- Keep an active and consistent asana practice. By maintaining this discipline, you will notice you can mull over your sankalpa while you are on the mat. Mat time is an excellent way to lose the things that impede our going forward and hone the mind. Remember, if you are practicing Yoga Nidra to be sure to use your sankalpa.
You will know you have achieved your sankalpa when reciting it becomes unnecessary, as you have made it a natural and normal part of your life. If it takes more than a year to come to fruition, you’ll know next year’s resolution and that’s ok!
May you flourish on your journey with patience and with a discipline that is compassionate and promotes growth.
Happy New Year…
 “Sankalpa.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 30 Dec. 2015.  Clear, James. “How Long Does It Actually Take to Form a New Habit? (Backed by Science).” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com. Web. 30 Dec. 2015.