Q: I always make one or two New Year resolutions but have had little success in following through on them. What can I do this year to achieve my goals?
A: Every year, we gain a clearer understanding that without positive change, decline is inevitable. The challenge is to recognize that what we are now doing can be reinvented by paying attention to our intentions. Yet, it is very hard to bring about significant change without changes in behavior.
Here are five reasons why it is so difficult to achieve our New Year resolutions:
1. Powerful countervailing forces appear when we attempt to engineer positive change. We discover our competing commitments pull us in opposite directions causing us to spend a great deal of energy attempting to satisfy each: "I'm going to lose 20lbs but I really love to eat and drink." or “I am going to start a business of my own but I really like the security of the paycheck I get from my job today.”
2. Our overbooked lives and strong immunity to change try to keep us from relearning deeply ingrained habits. Today, 64% of people in the US say there is not enough time in the day to get things done. A poor night's sleep and tight work deadlines adversely affect our work performance. We turn on the TV to pass the time rather than moving forward to accomplish our good intentions.
3. Most people don't respect their strong immunity to change and, therefore, don't develop the support systems necessary to overcome this powerful and dynamic equilibrium to stay the same. However, there is untapped energy to be found if we can become less embedded in this immune system that protects us from change.
4. We don't give our brain enough time and energy to relearn deeply ingrained habits by developing and following a goal-achieving plan through personal determination, practice, repetition and the support of others.
5. Some feel they need a change but have a difficult time articulating/envisioning what that change looks like and how to plan to make it real. Developing the ability to respond to unpredictable change is very hard. Most are afraid to develop approaches to move from the more comfortable status quo. Learning to take risks by starting with small projects (where the impact of failure is not excessive) is a good approach to overcome this lack of initiative.
Self-directed learning helps you to discover an ideal vision of yourself to feel motivated in developing the abilities necessary to get you where you want to be. That is, you see the person you want to be---living with the capability necessary to create and sustain the new you. This personal makeover becomes the source of the energy required to work at the difficult and often frustrating process of change.
Now that you know where you want to be, the next step is to look in the mirror to discover where you really are today---how habits are making you act, how others view you and what comprises your deep assumptions and beliefs. Some of this reflection will represent gaps between where you are and where you want to be.
The realization of the gap prepares you for developing an agenda or plan of action needed for the detailed guidance on what new rituals to try each day to make the new habit sticky while you build your strengths and move closer to your ideal self.
We need more than self-help books to move forward.
Others help us see things we are missing, affirm whatever progress we have made, test our perceptions and let us know how we are doing. They provide the context for our practice of the new rituals. Although the model is called self-directed learning, without others involvement, lasting change can't occur.
Taking the personal initiative to generate innovative ideas and solutions to problems can require support in the form of a personal coach or a support group who guide us in handling important issues in our lives.
When we talk to others, in a safe environment, about the impending change, we reach clarity on what we must do to keep moving forward. Building our capability to accept and effectively handle change can release energy spent in worry and transform it into focused action.