We all know they’re as seasonal as fairy lights and tinsel.
Still, we go through the motion of writing lists of things we’ll do differently This Year. Like getting fit, or leaving work on time more often, or writing that book we’ve always known we have in us.
It’s not that we don’t mean well – most of us start out with the very best of intentions. It’s just that our resolutions lack a little, well, resolve.
Allergic To Change?
It’s easy to beat ourselves up, but part of the challenge is that we are psychologically hard-wired to resist change.
Jim Taylor across at Psychology Today describes it as the Law of Human Inertia:
The tendency of people, having once established a life trajectory, to continue on that course unless acted on by a greater force.
Think about what that means for just a moment: once you’ve got yourself into a life groove, that’s where you’re likely to stay unless something major knocks you off-track.
Now, I’ve seen people reinvent themselves because of something that happened to them. A relationship break-up, a redundancy, a health-scare.
But it’s a rare bird who makes a major change of their own volition.
Because, admit it, if you are in the groove of having two full fat lattes, each with six sugars a day, it’s mince switching to skinny with sweetener, or going cold turkey and drinking herbal tea.
If you’re in the groove of being so busy at work that you don’t get home till 8.30pm each evening, it’s guilt-provoking to leave your desk at 6, and weird to have full evenings with nothing to do.
If you are used to having a dream of writing a book, it’s difficult to give the dream up and, find the norm-defying routine that will see you putting words down on paper or screen every day.
All these things are just plain uncomfortable, and most of us want a comfortable life.
So, what’s the answer if you want to break through?
The trick is to create your own “major force” – something that’s beyond the nitty-gritty of the resolutions. For me, that takes the form of a commitment.
Making a commitment means making a clear decision about something inspirational, and then moving heaven and earth to make it happen. It’s like a marriage. Like making a decision to live your life with one special other. They, and it, become a central organising force in your life, giving you the energy and determination to keep going and find solutions to things, even when they get tricky.
Things change because you’ve decided they will.
So, your resolve to lose weight, might be better couched as a commitment to be healthy. People who are healthy don’t starve themselves, and pound the treadmills in January, only to lurch back into their sofas for the rest of the year. Their commitment means they create their lifestyles in a way that allows them to eat, exercise, sleep, and rest in a balanced way over the course of their whole lives.
Similarly, your resolve about leaving work on time might be better couched as a commitment to create a richer life for yourself. It may spur you to get more productive about the hours you spend in work, to challenge you to think about your needs around work, healthy and otherwise, and to allow yourself to enjoy more of what makes you happy beyond work.
I’m always amazed at what becomes possible when people commit to changing in a specific way.
Take John. He was sick of the feeling that, despite being among the smartest people I know, he found himself in a succession of jobs just below his true level of ability. He might have resolved to get another new job. Instead he committed to pushing through his own glass ceiling and becoming his best self. This galvanised him to challenge some of the ways he was operating in his then current job, to up the ante on his level of personal engagement in things, and in time to move into a role that was a better match for who he is.
Or Martha. A real firebrand, she’d nevertheless play this Cinderella type game of being hired into “ugly sister” type jobs, and waiting for some Prince Charming Boss in the company to spot her real talent. Which they always inevitably did, only to want to use it more for their advantage than hers. She could have resolved to try to blossom into the role that had most recently been discovered for. Instead she committed to write her own fairy tale and enable her own star to shine. She is just starting out on a bold entrepreneurial journey that’s already gaining traction.
Then Peter. He was someone who, for years, gave his time and service to one of the UK’s big institutions. Who, as times changed, and demands on him toughened, began to feel that his loyalty was being taken for granted. For years he’d read books by successful entrepreneurs, admiring their success, but doubting he could emulate it. He could have resolved to be less stressed or to have better worklife balance. Instead he committed to enabling the entrepreneur in him. This decision was the catalyst for him to use his non-work time to re-educate himself, and develop a viable self-employed business. He quit his job last year, and has never looked back.
Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable
Was it easy for these people to change?
Was it exciting, exhilarating and inspiring?
Is it giving them experiences of life they’ve never had before.
They all dared to give up their old images of themselves, and risked being out of control. I know they had times of self-doubt, and sometime still do: that comes with the territory. But one thing they all did was switch from passively knowing what they wanted, to actively being in the service of creating it.
In other words, they allowed their commitment to rock their lives. And so can you.
So, as your resolve begins to fade on your new year resolutions, what might you commit to? How would it change your life?