New Years Eve is coming around and that brings up friends, parties, and the kiss at midnight. You also might be thinking about the resolutions you have to make. A resolution has good intentions but unfortunately is simply ineffective. The intention is to take a closer look at something about you and ‘fix’ it so you become a better person. That’s the theory at least.
To accomplish resolutions requires willpower. And we all overestimate the strength of our willpower. We even test it “I’ll just have two chips” rather than eating a baby carrot (or something more to your liking). Then after two chips, the will power vanishes and soon enough we find the bottom of the bag, or at least put a sizeable dent in it. And after eating more than “just two chips” we feel guilty that out willpower failed us.
Furthermore, most likely by the end of January, we have given up our resolution to NOT do something. Making resolutions are almost destined to fail because they rely on will power that we don’t have, and we subject ourselves to guilt, shame, and nagging as motivators.
And the real kicker is that all the guilt and self-nagging of not fulfilling your resolution goes away if we just quit our resolution. So we end up rewarding ourselves by quitting our own resolution. Wait, that’s not what we wanted!
Instead of the disappointing cycle of New Year’s resolutions, what would happen if you made New Year’s goals? Goals require our resources to move us forward. Creating goals better aligns our actions to our values. Goals are more guided.
Goals tell our brains and us where to go. Resolutions only tell us what we don’t want.
I’m reminded of a story heard about I-70 that spans east to west across Kansas. Now Kansas is a rather rural state with open farmland full of sunflowers. In the wintertime, when the snow flies, it can make driving on the interstate difficult. I don’t have the reference but ‘they’ found that people routinely crashed into the power poles along side the interstate. Why do people crash into powerline poles when there is so much open space between? When spinning and sliding out of control, drivers would see the pole and think to themselves, “don’t hit that pole, don’t hit the pole” and continue looking at something they didn’t want. By looking at it, they drove right into the pole. Now if they looked at the open space, they would be thinking “slide into the open space”. After all, that is what they wanted. At the risk of using psychobabble, our sub-conscious steers us in the direction we are looking.
While it may appear to be semantics, the nuances are essential to our brain and the way we process information. It’s a matter of going toward something you DO want versus going away from something you DON’T want.
For example I could tell you, “Don’t think about your breathing. Just don’t think about it. Think about anything BUT your breathing.” Chances are, your awareness of your breathing changed even though I told you NOT to think about it. That is how your brain process information and you can use it to create mental tricks. But the real question is…
What DO you want to do? What do you want to accomplish for the next year?