Here’s what you need to know. Article at-a-glance:
- Lasting resolutions should not be about fixing all your faults. Stop beating yourself up and grow the good in you.
- Change the one thing that will have the biggest impact on yourself and others. Forget everything else.
- If you aren’t having some fun along the way, you’re going about it wrong.
- You can’t incorporate a new behavior into a life that hasn’t made room for it. Clear some space by letting go of behaviors and thoughts that are holding you back.
- If you’re not willing to step outside your comfort zone, you’ll never have the opportunity to grow. Do mini-experiments throughout the day that test your assumptions. Remember that whatever happens doesn’t mean your wrong or a failure. It’s all just feedback to help you learn.
- You must not hide the messiness of it all. Practice embracing your missteps as part of your journey. Own all you mess and use it as a platform for your continual growth.
- The job becoming the fullest, healthiest, most amazing self-expression of what you can be on planet earth requires recommitting daily to your personal goals.
It’s January. You’ve made your resolution(s), read your articles on how to create the life you want, and now you’ve got hundreds of days to make it all happen.
Yeah, me too. We all are.
It’s January 2nd, how’s your progress going?
Not much change? Starting tomorrow?
January 5th. Any progress?
Perhaps your resolutions are doomed to fail, and it has nothing to do with your motivation, willpower, or knowledge. It has to do with quirks of human nature. Discover what is holding you back:
1. Your New Years Resolutions are a List of Your Flaws
Most of us have a tendency to look at what we don’t like about our lives and then to get lost in how we can make it better. In fact our brains our wired to pay more attention to negative information than positive things, a phenomena called negativity bias.
By focusing on negative things like your perceived flaws, it’s easy to end up with a list of imperfections to fix rather than intentions to build upon. This puts you in a hole from the start because it turns everything into a problem to be struggled with. If you try so hard to make sure you look good, for everyone, doing everything, all the f*$king time, stop it! It’s exhausting.
The Fix: You are not broken and don’t need to be repaired
When crafting your resolutions, start from a place of wholeness. What is it that you love about yourself that you can bring and grow in the New Year? What went well last year that you can take to the next level this year?
See if you can build your resolutions around things you already value. What’s the overlap between what you want and what gives you lasting energy and fulfillment? Can you turn that into a daily practice? Highlighting the positive is a more compassionate and sustainable approach than trying to fix all your perceived faults.
2. You’re trying too hard
The New Year’s motivation to improve your life is noble. But don’t take the whole self-improvement thing so seriously that it’s killing your joy. It’s easy to ruin good intentions by placing unreasonable demands on yourself, especially if you’re the type of person who dishes-out self-criticism with a ladle the size of the Big Dipper. You don’t want to tacke the world and end up blaming yourself when you don’t get the results you want. This only makes it harder to start again.
Consider what you want to be doing/being a year from now and what it will take to get you there? Can you imagine yourself following through on this process? Does it make you miserable just thinking about it? If so, it’s time to reassess your goals. Remember having time, energy and resources to pursue personal development is a privilege denied to many. Life is hard enough. Our resolutions shouldn’t add to that struggle.
The Fix: Do less, but do it better.
Don’t try to change everything all at once. It’s not a sustainable approach. Set reasonable expectations that go deep into one thing. Give yourself permission to forget everything else for now and focus your energy where it matters most.
Some powerful coaching questions you can use to hone your resolution are:
- What’s the one thing that you could change TODAY that would make the biggest impact in your life?
- How likely are you to actually do it?
- What’s holding you back?
- If you did follow through, how would it affect you? How about those closest to you?
Once you’ve answered these questions, see if you can craft a behavioral goal that is rooted in the real impact it will have on yourself and others. Make sure it is within your control, and, most importantly, includes an element of play.
Ask yourself, “What will make this process more enjoyable?” For example, if you’re trying to exercise more, how could you add in some fun? Perhaps trying a new sport; Getting a workout buddy; Training for a specific race or event; Chronicling your efforts on social media, etc.
If the task itself really isn’t a joyful one, try temptation bundling where you couple your desired activity with one you already know you enjoy. For example pair your daily workout with listening to your favorite podcast. In fact, thinking of exercise as fun rather than a chore makes it less likely you’ll reward yourself afterwards with unhealthy snacks.
3. You haven’t made room for what you want.
You can’t integrate new behaviors into a life that hasn’t made room for them. Period.
Our lives are like a puzzle. We have different needs and desires that fit together into a familiar picture we live out each day. Changing that picture isn’t as simple as adding another piece to the puzzle. First we need to let go of some older pieces to make room for new ones.
Unfortunately, our bodies and minds don’t want to let go. They want to do what they did yesterday: move the same way, think the same thoughts, and feel the same emotions. We repeat behaviors that feel good, keep us alive and make us safe. You. Me. Everyone. This is our called our comfort zone. It’s our home base for living.
As humans, our job isn’t to abandon our comfort zone (good luck trying). Our job is to learn to recognize its limitations and evolve it. That’s what personal growth is all about, right? (If you’re still reading this article then some part of you thinks so.)
The Fix: Acknowledge your resistance and create a “let it go” box
Many resolutions fail because people don’t acknowledge their internal resistance to change. Own up to the fact that part of you wants to become bigger, better, happier, and healthier, and part of you wants to stay exactly the same. We all live in a tension between staying in our comfort zone and growing.
These competing drives are just part of being human. Don’t assume that with enough motivation and willpower you can just start doing “___[insert your desired behavior]___” and keep all else the same. Chances are you’ll revert back to doing what you’ve always done.
Create a “let it go” box for thoughts, issues, obstacles, and judgments that will prevent you from really moving forward into 2016. Sometimes its apparent what ways of thinking and relating are serving you and which are holding you back. Other times it takes more investigation into your own habits. Ask yourself, “What am I holding on to that is keeping me tethered to the life I have (opposed to the life I want)?
Take these old beliefs and habits and write them on a piece of paper. Then crumple them up and toss them in the let-it-go box.
Feel what its like to actually let go of these things. It might be painful or uncomfortable at first, and you might have to practice it a few times. Yet chances are the actual pain of letting go isn’t as bad as the fear you anticipated.
4. You don’t allow things to get messy
For most of us, the life we truly want doesn’t look and feel exactly the same as yesterday. If we knew how every minute of our day was going to unfold, there would be no zest, no fun. There needs to be some adventure and mystery.
However, our minds have evolved to filter and organize unpredictable life situations into a story we feel comfortable enough to handle. In other words, our minds are designed to dispel mystery. Too often we try to control the messiness of life by micromanaging every aspect of our days. But it is impossible to change if we don’t embrace a little bit of variety, and that means letting go of some control.
The Fix: Create organized mess by doing mini-experiments
We need to move a bit outside our comfort zones to get what we want. They key is to regulate the amount of mess our fragile little egos can handle. Too much and we freak out and panic. Too little and we get apathetic or bored.
If you approach each day like a mini-experiment, you can add variety and adventure on your own terms. Change one thing and see what happens. Although you introduce the possibility of being embarrassed, afraid or inconvenienced, it’s not the end of the world. Whatever you find can help you grow.
The hardest part is to take everything in stride and turn off the part of your brain that says, “I failed” when you get negative reactions. If you can transform failures into feedback, you can continually learn without fear of being wrong. From that perspective, seeing how you and others around you react when you try something new becomes fun rather than scary.
5. You don’t own up to and learn from your missteps and failures
Accept that living the life of your dreams takes work, and the path to get there will not be a straight shot. People learn and grow in waves. You will rise, peak, plateau and dip. Expect a lot of variability, especially when trying something new.
Inevitably, you’ll face struggle, loss, or disappointment on the path to achieving your dreams. Don’t write this off or try to sweep it under the rug. When you’re in a dip, remember they are normal and required to rebuild your comfort zone so that it can support you in the face of new challenges. In the end, these valleys hold tremendous potential for growth. Learning from them gives you character. Don’t deny the unique flavor of your life story by pretending you never struggled.
The fix: Own you mess and turn it into your message
Embracing all your messy stories and qualities, even the dark, depressing ones, takes courage. The healthiest most inspiring people I know are those who are brave enough to own up to their missteps and failures without judgment or guilt. They know their faults; they know their strengths, and it’s all OK. They don’t justify poor behavior; rather they have learned from their mistakes and moved on.
It takes a great deal of personal work to integrate these darker days into your life. But if you don’t give yourself permission to be a perfectly imperfect human who is learning some lessons, then no matter how hard you’re trying to change, some parts of yourself will be lurking in the shadows to hold you back. These repressed aspects of yourself are the most insidious barriers to real transformation. As Brené Brown says in the Gift of Imperfection:
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
6. You think goal setting only happens at the beginning of the year
New Year’s is a good time to take stock of the past year and look forward to the coming months. In fact, research shows that people are more likely to tackle their goals immediately following big landmarks like birthdays, holidays, ends of semesters, etc., when there’s an opportunity to start fresh with a clean slate.
However, resolutions are not set it and forget it. The decision to do or not to do something must be made every day, again and again. This takes more than discipline. It requires setting up structures in your life that support your success.
The Fix: Recommit daily.
Why do Christians go to Church every Sunday? Why do Muslims pray 5 times a day? Because some very smart people understood the fickleness of human nature. Without constant reinforcement and reminders to act in accordance with what we know best, we are likely to stray off course.
Staying committed, especially to something the majority of people can’t see—your potential to be something more than you are right now—requires constant reminders. Whether it’s a post-it note on your bathroom mirror, a coach that keeps you accountable, or a morning meditation on why you really want to change, find ways to remind yourself to make decisions that align with your aspirations.
The simplest and most powerful way to stay committed is to write down your goal EVERY DAY. Putting it on paper brings it to the forefront of your mind, activating parts of your brain that are geared towards goal-oriented behavior. Write it. Remember it. Do it.
To Sum up:
You are the only one who can choose to live fully, love fully, and accept fully all that lies ahead. If you are willing to do the work of persuing the life of your dreams, you will need to address all these roadblocks, not just once, but over and over. Following theses steps will allow you to expand into new realms of possibility. If you stick with it, before you know it you will wonder who is this smiling, happy person staring back at you in the mirror.
Negativity Bias: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/06/14/overcoming-your-negativity-bias/?_r=0
Temptation Bundling: http://freakonomics.com/2015/03/13/when-willpower-isnt-enough-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/
Exercise as Fun & Snacking Behavior: http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/OP/fun_or_exercise
Brené Brown: http://www.amazon.com/The-Gifts-Imperfection-Supposed-Embrace/dp/159285849X
The Fresh Start Effect: http://pubsonline.informs.org/doi/abs/10.1287/mnsc.2014.1901
Power of Intention: https://www.entheos.com/ideas/brian-johnson/1297/the-power-of-intention
I’m Jeff Siegel, a wellness coach and mindfulness teacher, helping people upgrade their habits and improve their health. For free bi-monthly wisdom on how to eat, move, and be healthier, sign-up for my newsletter. If you’d like to explore working together, you can schedule a private 30-min consultation call with me.