As we begin a new decade many have ambitiously begun to tackle "resolutions" to create change that brings about greater fulfillment. Unfortunately, at this point you might also be feeling the beginnings of your resistance to sticking to your resolutions and asking yourself why discipline and willpower seem to elude you. Research and surveys indicate that there is a 75 percent failure rate in first attempts at resolutions. Personally, I don't make resolutions. I also encourage others not to. Resolutions often set people up for failure. Rather I articulate goals born from visions with specific, down-to-earth plans that help bring about R.E.A.L. (realistic, empowering, aligned, likely) change.
My personal experience, and my experience of working with others, has consistently shown that there is a failure to accept that creating change does not happen overnight. Rather, change is a process with many components that includes resistance. The best way to manage resistance is to accept that it may very well be inevitable, and to plan for it. In George Leonard's book "Mastery," he brilliantly defines homeostasis, specifically in regard to human beings and the change process. The dictionary defines homeostasis as the tendency for a system (particularly of higher animals) to maintain stability and a state of psychological equilibrium obtained when tension or a drive has been reduced or eliminated. What does this have to do with your new year's resolutions? A lot! What this means is that your physical and psychological system fights to maintain what it perceives as normal or balanced and therefore comfortable. However, in order to really change and grow, you have to move beyond your comfort zone. And yes, sometimes moving beyond your comfort zone to create desired change includes sweat and tears.
There are times when I walk into the gym and there is a loud voice in my head yelling, "Oh God, do we have to workout today?!? Can't we just go home, get back in front of the computer and keep writing?" At times it seems that it would be so much easier to turn around and leave than actually get through my workout, and on occasion, I have turned around and walked out. However, I also know that this is exactly the resistance that needs to be managed. I know that if I can move beyond that voice, put on my workout clothes, get on the floor and start lifting weights, the voice goes away, my energy goes up and I am grateful I didn't leave. Also, in order to achieve the results I want from my workouts, I have to push my muscles beyond their comfort zone and perceived normalcy. And you know what? It hurts! Sometimes I just don't want to keep pushing. But again, I know that it is moving beyond homeostasis, stretching beyond my comfort zone, that supports my growth on all levels. In addition, the gym is one vivid example of how consistency and discipline in the face of seeming discomfort helps produce results.
Below I've outlined a plan for you that will support you in creating R.E.A.L. change:
- Set Goals and Intentions, Not Resolutions
- Schedule Time
- Implement Support Systems
- Plan for Resistance
- Celebrate Milestones
Setting goals and intentions is a more complex process than simply stating a resolution. This includes mapping the big picture and breaking your larger goal into R.E.A.L. actions. R.E.A.L. actions are realistic, empowering, aligned with your overall goal, and likely to be done. For instance, if you're beginning a new workout routine (ideally with a trainer) and have barely set foot in a gym for the past six months, you're not going to immediately start bench pressing 200 pounds. Rather, you break the goal of 200 pounds into R.E.A.L. actions. This might include starting with 90 pounds, stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone and continuing to work your way up in weight until you eventually reach your desired target of bench pressing 200 pounds.
B.Y.O.B means "bust your outdated beliefs." If your goal is to attract a new relationship and you have unconsciously held on to an old negative belief that "men are unavailable and uninterested in commitment," this could sabotage your success. Enlist the necessary support to uncover and update the unconscious negative patterns and beliefs that are getting in the way of you achieving your desired results.
Perhaps you have decided that you want to release some undesired weight this year, which includes a workout routine. It does not serve you to arbitrarily throw a specific number of workouts onto your calendar. I see people do this all the time. They say, "I plan to get to the gym five times a week." Actually, they don't really plan anything, which sets themselves up for failure. When they do finally pull out the calendar and take a realistic look at how much time they really have, they find that they can only get to the gym three times per week. This is a critical element for success as it informs the goal. For instance, knowing that they can only get to the gym three times a week instead of six informs how long it will take to realistically drop the weight.
Who said you have to do it alone? I strongly encourage you to enlist the support of a friend, coach, partner, etc. who you fully inform about your intention. Ask this person to help hold you accountable by checking in with you regularly. Invite them to specifically ask what you have accomplished and what your plans for future action are during the check-in. A support system can also include non-people support. For instance, meditating or keeping a journal can be very supportive tools to help get you through the challenging moments on your path to success.
It is quite likely that you will hit some bumps along the way. Life happens, and as previously illustrated, we have a natural inclination to maintain comfort and normalcy. However, if you know this ahead of time, you can plan to manage it. Simply being aware that this is a likely phenomenon that will support you in moving through it when it shows up. I even encourage you to ask yourself what some of your typical resistance patterns are (i.e., procrastination, distractions, over-committing to things that will pull your attention, etc.) and set up resources to manage yourself. I now have two computers. One of them is strictly for work, and I have made an agreement with myself that when I am on the "work" computer, I will not engage in frivolous online surfing that encourages distraction and procrastination.
I know for me it is easy to get into the mindset of always feeling like I must do more and constantly do what appears to take me closer to success. However, sometimes moving closer toward success means taking a break and acknowledging yourself for what you have accomplished. It is easy to overlook current accomplishments when we have not yet reached the goal. However, it is the little accomplishments along the way that are the true success. The goal in and of itself is just a destination. So acknowledge yourself, set up times for personal celebration and doing what you love. For me, something as simple as going to the theater can be a celebration. I love the theater. Going to the theater is a gift to me, so when I have theater tickets, I am even more driven to achieve little successes. This way going to the theater is truly a gift and a way for me to acknowledge myself for what I have accomplished.
You can create change for yourself! But it doesn't happen overnight, and it doesn't occur in a vacuum. It occurs amidst the sometimes-chaotic glory of our everyday existence. Therefore, it is critical to intentionally set yourself up for success by implementing support systems, plans and celebration. In addition, be good to yourself, particularly when the change you are striving for gets uncomfortable. And remember, embracing what is unfamiliar or uncomfortable can indeed result in some of your greatest breakthroughs to having the life you desire.