The Lie of the New Year's Resolution
It is that time of year.You know it—we are just around the corner from those good old New Year’s resolutions. Suddenly a new focus emerges. Ideals around getting “back into shape” emerge. Resolutions to cease bad habits strengthen. Maybe it’s to stop drinking or smoking. Maybe it is a firm resolution to spend more time with the family. Or a commitment to give yourself the time needed to nourish and replenish yourself captures your attention as January 1st brings in a new year.
Whatever it is, this year I urge us all to proceed with caution.
While our calendar has just made its new transition, the holidays have ended and the new year’s celebrations have come to a close, and we are all back inside the same lives. The same contours surround us. The same challenges and responsibilities push and pull on us. The same aspirations will draw us forward and the same unseen competing commitments are holding us back and they will continue to hold us back.
In this overarching reality, our new year’s resolutions don’t have much of a fighting chance. That’s just the honest truth. That’s why by the end of January, the gym will return to its normal volumes filled with the familiar faces of the regulars. Resolutions to cease bad habits flounder and eventually disappear into forgetfulness. The existing habits of our lives are likely to swallow us whole. This is the power of most new years resolutions:
In three weeks, the same behavioral patterns will enslave us.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love intentions. I love new resolutions to change ourselves and our life. I am all for them. My entire livelihood is built around helping people evolve themselves. I spend just about every day of my life focused on how to facilitate my clients’ development. Whether it is in their jobs, families, intimate relationships, company, community and/or in the realm of athletics, I’ve got my hands, head and heart fiercely engaged in improving how people perform in all walks of life to make their lives better.
And for adults attempting self-directed changes to improve their lives, these changes always originate in perspectives. Your vantage point or outlook is your most fundamental asset. Whether we call it perspective, vision or a new year’s resolution, inner directed change does stem from your insights and commitments to change. And, whether or not your intentions actually embed themselves into new mental, emotional and behavioral patterns rests on one major question:Is your vision, intention or perspective worthy?
New resolutions are a dime a dozen. They are cheap. Ideas for change are not by any means lacking. To recognize when your mind and efforts have been temporarily hijacked by a cheap insight is itself a dramatic move forward in clarity. This year, I encourage all of us to be suspicious of what resolutions tend to seduce us. The first and most important challenge in changing our lives for the better asks this all important question:
Is your perspective more worthy than the existing intelligence of your present life?Most people look into their idealistic resolutions, aspirations and new intentions and instinctively say, “Yes, it’s totally better than my current life.” Don’t be seduced by these lies. Our more superficial assessments often fail to understand the broader implications of the intended changes we are envisioning. Intoxicated optimism does not understand the ingenuity and creative adaptation that is structuring, guiding and stabilizing our present lives into their current orbits.
So let’s ask ourselves, “Are my new resolutions for change truly worthy? Are they genuinely worthy of my life force? Is my intention valuable enough for me to, at least in some important ways, abandon part of the intelligence of my present life? Does this perspective provide greater value? And is this value more powerful than my existing habits to keep anxiety at a minimum?”
Most efforts at change fail here so straighten that spine, deepen your breath and sharpen your focus right here. Often the preference to not experience anxiety in change is greater than the desire for change. As such, visions are too small. Resolutions are too fleeting. Intentions are infused with wishful fantasies. Perspectives are less complex than the realities presently governing our lives.Regardless of how sincere, excited, determined and/or committed we may be, if our perspectives fail the value test, real sustainable change isn’t in our favor. A vision that is too small or a resolution that merely extends a few months (or even a couple of years) will fail most adults. Intentions fueled by or resting on hopeful fantasies fail. Visions holding less complexity than our present lives fail.
I often find myself repeating the saying, “Go big or go home!” Our perspective has to be bigger, more complex and hold greater continuity and endurance than our present lives. If we are not bold, we will likely fail. Our guiding perspectives must be born from courage. If it is weak at this this starting point, our minds and hearts will lack the ability to reshape the reality of our lives.
Reality rules, my friend. Our minds are either an early manifestation of a reality that is greater than our present life, or our minds are seduced into tinkering with shadows as they flicker on the wall pretending to be real.
Once our perspectives passes the value test, the next all-important question to ask ourselves is, “Can my desire for change conduct from intention to behavior?” With my clients, I use a proprietary system called Core Asset Management. It follows this critical thread from our perspectives down into our behavioral adaptations.
Without carefully following this sequence, ideas (regardless how valuable they are) remain as glimmers of possibility in our minds. Here now, gone in a short while. Meanwhile, the gravity of our habits powerfully cascade from one day to the next. From week to week, month to month and year to year, our life habits carry onward for better and for worse.
By adulthood, many decades of momentum are in full swing. When new year’s resolutions surface, the sheer force of life’s habituated intelligence dismantles even the most sincere attempts at positive change. Regardless of how painful or limiting habits may feel now, they are carried by a pragmatic tradition. They work. While we may be desiring to outgrow certain habits, they are still employed to fulfill a purpose.
Let’s save ourselves some frustration this year. Let’s not fall into the trap of wasting energy in efforts that may already be eroding our precious life force. Instead, focus intently on cultivating an intention, perspective and vantage point that is truly worthy.
Do not expect to discover it with a vision worksheet, in an hour’s conversation with a professional coach or over dinner with your partner. If we want real change, we have to give ourselves fully to this endeavor. Devote weeks to this endeavor. Apply the full intelligence of your life into this single inquiry.
Some of my clients spend months piercing through the entrenched limitations of their mind until finally something immeasurably precious occurs. A worthy resolution emerges. A new perspective captures them. They cannot forget about it because it is not merely an idea that comes and goes. Instead, it is an intention that permeates all that they are. It informs who and what they are at a fundamental level. When this foothold has taken shape, the flywheel of habit, its momentum and intelligence are but small pieces in a now larger, vaster and more capable self that is genuinely capable of life-altering and world-sculpting change.
This year, go big, my friends. Our world needs it and so does your heart.
~Rob McNamaraLeadership and Performance Coach, Author of The Elegant Self and Strength To Awakenwww.RobMcNamara.com