How To Make Positive Change

I recently read that out of the millions of Americans who set a New Year’s resolution for themselves only 8 percent are successful at achieving them. It’s not easy to intentionally effect change in your life, yet through setting an intention and building a lifestyle around that motivation it can get easier.

Setting an Intention

If you want to create a change in your life, you can begin by clarifying your intention for doing so. Start by sitting up straight, taking a few minutes to check in with your body. Notice where you are tense and allow those muscles to relax. Once you are settled, turn your mind to the physical sensation of your breathing. Tune into the natural flow of both your in-breath and your out-breath. After three or so minutes of this simple meditation, allow your mind to move on to the contemplation “What is my motivation for change?”

You may feel some resistance to the idea of finding one set motivation. Notice that resistance; let it wash over you like a wave, and come back to the phrase just as you came back to the breath during the previous part of this meditative exercise.

Take a full five minutes to roll this simple question around in your mind. Then drop the phrase itself and just return to your breath, letting your mind ride on that natural reminder of the beauty of this present moment.

Are you surprised by what came up in these few minutes? I always am when I do this work. Sometimes my mind keeps returning to the image of a role model; someone who seems to embody the ideals I hold. Sometimes a certain quality that I have noticed about myself (or one that I wish to develop) comes up and I am left with a profound curiosity as to what it would be like to live my life with that at the core of who I am.

Discerning Your Personal Mandala

As a result of this contemplation, you can discern what you would like your personal mandala to look like. The Sanskrit word mandala refers to concentric circles that form a type of organizational chart. In Buddhism, within the core of the mandala is a lineage figure or deity that one might meditate on. Around that central figure are several increasingly larger circles which contain its emanations, its associates, and so on to the point that all sentient beings are represented.

In the same way, you create a mandala for yourself without necessarily realizing it. Whatever you take as your chief motivation is at the center. For example, if you put the classic American dream of “getting ahead in life” at the core of your mandala then your life will likely revolve around a job you may not find real meaning in. You may accumulate wealth, you may get a stereotypical “perfect” spouse who is, in fact, not perfect for you, and you might spend your time finding new ways to make more money until you retire or die exhausted.

Conversely, if you take the motivation that you want to be a kinder person as the center of your mandala, then that next circle around it might include how you could express kindness to your friends and family. Then it might include how to be kind at work, at social gatherings, or while traveling. If you put kindness at the center of your mandala then you will build a lifestyle based in that core idea of becoming who you want to be, as opposed to what you want to do for your 9:00-5:00.

Take for example my friend Taz Tagore. Taz is a naturally generous and aware person. I believe that these qualities are at the core of her mandala. Over time this aspect of who she is led her to certain activity: she’s a strong mother, a wise entrepreneur, and she co-founded the Reciprocity Foundation, a homeless aide organization for youth in New York City.

I continue to be inspired by the work she is doing in treating down-on-their-luck youth in a holistic fashion. She not only practices generosity in providing them with resources for work but is aware enough to know that they could benefit from care from social workers as well as meditation. She has had a profound effect on hundreds of individuals through discerning these qualities of herself and moving them to the center of her mandala.

It is up to you as to what you would like your life to revolve around. Is it your career? A quality you want to cultivate? Meditation practice itself? For each of us, our core motivation for personal change will look different. That’s why it’s important to figure it out, and then intentionally develop a support structure, our own personal mandala, to support that endeavor.


Lodro Rinzler is a Shambhala Buddhist teacher and the author of The Buddha Walks into a Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation

Lodro is teaching our popular introductory meditation course, Meditation in Everyday Life, beginning January 10, 2013.