It’s no secret that New Year’s resolutions rarely last into February let alone March. Unfortunately most people believe this is due to a lack of willpower or drive. This feeling of inadequacy will drive some to push harder, but negative feelings can only serve as your key motivator for so long. So how can you find motivation to stick to your resolution? Let’s start by asking why it’s so difficult to stick to a resolution…
You’ve never thought this far into the future.
Really think about your work or school life on a daily basis. Where do you spend the majority of your mental energy? On long-term planning or on hour-by-hour tasks? If you had someone over your shoulder every second of every day I would guess that 60% or more of your time is spent reacting to various inputs. An email, a question from a team member, or a phone call. 20% of your time is likely spent on a time-specific project. These usually last 8-12 weeks. Maybe — and this is generous — 20% of your time is spent on long-term, strategic thought. And even then this 20% is probably directed by a Supervisor or Standard Operating Procedure.
Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz described his job as “to protect and preserve the health of this company, to create opportunities for our employees.” Pretty open-ended job description, isn’t it? Until we’re faced with duties and check-lists that are as blank as that, we’re never required to “flex” our open-ended, long-term thinking brain. We often mistake the importance or complexity of our jobs with our ability to operate in open-ended systems. I’ve done business coaching with over 200 first-time entrepreneurs. The worst entrepreneurs are — by far — physicians and former C-Suite execs. Why? They’re jobs are incredibly complex and important, but very closed-looped. There are checklists, schedules, and daily activities with a clear path and historical accounting.
“I want to lose 20 pounds.”
This is the most common New Year’s Resolution I’ve heard. Let’s use it as a point-of-reference.
If you’re losing weight you should be losing body fat. Body fat can be lost at a rate of one to two pounds per week, depending upon how much excess body fat you have. If you’re looking to only lose 20 pounds, let’s assume those 20 pounds will allow you to achieve a healthy body composition. 20 pounds of body fat will take you 20 weeks to lose. A 20-week project with no supervision, benchmarks, or accountability is likely the longest, most open-ended project you’ve ever worked toward. Of course you don’t know how to do it.
Feel good naked.
“Look good naked.” is probably a term you’ve heard if you’ve dabbled in health and fitness on any level. I heard a great quote the other day: “If you ever expect to look good naked, you must first feel good naked.” When someone first comes in for a Discovery Session, I ask this question: “Imagine you spend the next year diligently working on your nutrition, fitness, and mindset. How does that person feel a year from today?” The reason I ask how losing 20 pounds will feel is because we can tap into those feelings long before the “goal” is reached. Most people report that they’ll feel more confident, energized, and happy. Will getting your first pull-up elicit those feelings? You bet. What about strutting into the office after a full week of 6:00am workouts? Hell yeah.
Happiness is NOT on the other side of achievement.
I heard a story this week about the one of the most joyful men a friend has ever met. His entire family was killed by gangs in Honduras. He was granted political asylum in the United States but chose to remain in his neighborhood. His joy is infectious.
There are a lot of lessons in there, but let’s stick to one. His happiness is not dictated by circumstance. Your happiness won’t change by losing 20 pounds. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. You must change your definition of happiness before you’ll be able to lose 20 pounds. You must find satisfaction elsewhere, then the 20 pounds will be a breeze.
Don’t let perfection stand in the way of progress.
My New Years Resolution was to write for 20 minutes a day, five days a week. I’m sitting at 80% so far. I’m trying my hardest to see 80% as a “B” and not an “F.” But, it’s difficult. I can rationalize the shit out of calling 4/5 days a failure. I can justify not pursuing this goal because of my busy schedule.
Success is not binary. It’s fluid and should be full of failures. I learn way more on the days I “fail” than I do on days I complete my resolution. But I don’t let the failures define me. The day isn’t ruined.
When it comes to losing 20 pounds, I often see people “cheat” on a given day and then throw the day entirely out the window. A bag of M&M’s on a stressful afternoon doesn’t mean that you failed. It doesn’t mean that you need to crush a cheesecake for dinner as punishment. It is what it is. It’s OK to be disappointed in yourself; there’s a good lesson in disappointment. But don’t let it turn into shame. Shame will lead to self-destruction.
“The type of person who…”
This has been my most powerful mantra of 2019 so far. When I find myself justifying a reason to not write, I simply ask myself “Am I the type of person who will ask people to do something I’m unwilling to do myself?” That something can be anything — being hard on myself, rationalizing, or simply being hypocritical. I think it is so powerful because it forces me to build my identity on behavior, not outcome.
Going back to our 20 pounds example, you may find yourself at the vending machines on a stressful Thursday afternoon. When that shame spiral pops up, just ask yourself: “Am I the type of person who would teach their kids/friends/staff to hate themselves over something as silly as M&M’s?”
Whatever your resolution, remind yourself that you’re on open waters without a compass. Radical change — like the change most of us save for resolutions — is astronomically difficult. It’s against our base nature. But it is possible with a little awareness and a shit-load of grace.