NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS: The Real Story

Are you ready to make a change in the New Year? Learn something new? Break a habit? Revise a pattern?  Build a relationship?

January often fills us with excitement and motivation. So we come up with great ideas, construct big plans and gather our energy to tackle the issues that will make a positive difference in our lives.

To make those changes, you just set up your goal and go at it. Right? Well, maybe not so fast.

Change is hard. And sometimes making change in meaningful ways is so difficult that come February or at most, March, we’ve already folded up our tents and quietly walked off the field hoping no one has noticed we haven’t achieved our stated aspirations. We might even have lost ground!

The big energy has turned into the big disappointment. We’re now feeling foolish, failed and frustrated for having exposed our dreams and tried to reach them.

But, you know, it doesn’t have to be this way.  Let’s think of what it really takes to make an important change. To do it well, we need to start with philosophy.

Change Philosophies: Free Will v. Determinism

Most New Year’s Resolutions fail because they don’t respect the laws of nature – especially human nature. Think about it this way. Physical nature operates on the basis of determinism, which is the belief in cause and effect – a more complex notion than it sounds like at first blush.

Let’s think of how determinism plays out around the weather. When certain climatic features are present, for example, like an icy wind blowing in from Canada at those of us in the northeast, we get cold – very cold.

But what are these climatic features? Why does the icy wind come at us?

Because the sun warms part of the earth, as well as the atmosphere around those parts. That warm air rises and then cold air comes in to take its’ place. It is the movement of the air that creates the ccccoooold wind which motivates the people in Boston to put on their winter coats. They are in effect ‘downwind’ of these determinants. Cause and effect.

What determinants are you downwind of?

Successfully achieving a challenging goal or making a significant personal change requires you to become aware of them, as they will bear on your project. To be thoughtful and therefore, more likely to be successful at your goal, you must take these myriad factors into account. The best way is by taking inventory of them at the beginning and continually throughout your journey.

Let’s see how it helps to maintain an intimate focus on your psyche and his or her multitude of concerns.

Let’s say losing 20 pounds is your goal. Becoming healthier over the long haul and fitting into smaller clothes has to become more important than that warm, delectable bar of rich, dark chocolate that’s going to melt all over your tongue and coat the inside of your mouth for one and a half minutes.

Through this process, you’ll encounter your beliefs, your sense of investment, your loyalty and some anxiety (to name a few features) that bear on your proposed weight loss goal.  You need to contend with them – talk with them, negotiate and engage with them before you can achieve your goal. But why am I not saying you will just have to use your will power?

Because will power, a synonym for free will, is a concept that defies and denies reality.

New Year’s Resolutions, like approaches to other goals, whether work or personal, split along philosophical lines.

On one side, you have those who believe you should do things of your own free will. They are the ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ people who either:

  1. fail miserably at their goals or
  2. achieve them but cause damage in their wake by beating up on themselves and anybody else who crosses their paths in their desperate attempt to get results without regard to impact on other people or processes.

On the other side, you have determinists who appreciate that:

  1. change doesn’t happen quickly,
  2. requires a lot of trial and error practice as well as
  3. a capacity to focus on your thoughts, feelings and patterns.

Then you need to feed and water the change process with patience and self – compassion.  Place in an atmosphere of generous support, latitude and sunshine.

Here are some definitions of latitude that I like:

  1. Freedom from normal restraints, limitations, or regulations.
  2. A range of values or conditions, especially the range of exposures over which a photographic film yields usable images.
  3. Extent; breadth.

Those who succeed at their goals will either have a healthy approach to them already or will acquire it through talking with other people about their goals.

Let’s examine a typical scenario. What’s the first problem that occurs when people try to achieve a goal like weight loss?

They cut fatty and heavy foods out of their diets and sign up for a gym membership. They attend the gym twice then happen to walk by a bakery where a delicious smelling cookie grabs their attention and won’t let it go. On impulse they quickly buy and eat the cookie.

What happens next? The ritual of self-flagellation. “I blew it! Oh shoot! How could I do such a stupid thing? It’s only been two days and I already failed…”

Then they don’t go back to the gym for a week, or two or never. Now, our weight loser has hurt herself.  She not only has not lost the weight but has also lost ground and self worth as well.

Do you think this is a perfectly reasonable reaction? Does it sound like you? Like someone you know?

It’s not. Here’s why.

Because your mind’s got, well, a mind of it’s own. Like your 4 year old daughter’s got a baby of her own – her doll; and your pocketbook’s got a pocketbook of its’ own – its’ wallet; and your computer’s got a computer of its’ own – its’ CPU; your mind has a mind of its’ own – its’ subconscious.

Your subconscious, or unconscious, is connected to all the features, both internal (you) and external (the world), that effect, impinge, connect, impact, relate, set the stage for, encroach on, influence, alter, change, reroute, and have any other sort of repercussion or consequence upon your goal and your capacity to reach it.

In the absence of appreciating these factors, you are in a world of denial. In Denial vs. the World, the world triumphs every time.  That’s every time.

Short of all that, it should be a straight shot to drop those excess 20 pounds…unless we think about how that extra weight might serve your psyche. Serve??? Yea. Now you’re at the doorstep of your unconscious. Welcome! Come on in.