Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Myth Busted: Why New Year's Resolutions Don't Work and What To Do About It

Things Have Got to ChangeImage via WikipediaBy Jacob A Nordby

Let's face it. New Year's Resolutions are bogus.

Who invented these instruments of torture anyway? Was it some evil Cardinal in the Catholic Church who used the practice of writing down the faults we wish to change as a method of selling more indulgences to the peasants?

Okay, now I'm making crazy talk. Of course there's nothing sinister about self-examination and setting up intentions to release unwanted baggage in our lives. But why do so many people feel cranky and depressed at the very thought of this tradition?
Here's the reason: New Year's resolutions usually deal with surface behaviors and fail to dig down around the roots of our dissatisfaction.
Statistics:
According to Steven Shapiro in an article about his book, Goal Free Living.
  • 45% of Americans usually set New Year's Resolutions; 17% infrequently set resolutions; 38% absolutely never set resolutions.
  • Only 8% of people are always successful in achieving their resolutions. 19% achieve their resolutions every other year. 49% have infrequent success. 24% (one in four people) NEVER succeed and have failed on every resolution every year. That means that 3 out of 4 people almost never succeed.
  • The less happy you are, the more likely you are to set New Year's Resolutions. This is especially true for those who set money-related resolutions: 41% are not happy, 34% are moderately happy, and 25% are happy.
In other words, when we sit down for a quick bout of introspection and write out a list of things we'd like to improve about our lives, we rarely get to the underlying issues...the unconscious impulses which cause us to overeat, waste time or procrastinate writing that book.

So, we have evidence which proves that a majority of people set resolutions and almost NONE of them follow through. But, there is a percentage of us out there who seemed to have figured out the magic formula. Some walk among us who are smart enough, disciplined enough and downright awesome enough to bust out of inertia and make real change. Are they living, breathing superheroes, or what?

The answer is: "... or what". The key to making resolutions stick isn't superior IQ, Spartan-worthy willpower or some mystical X-factor.

What I've discovered in long study of human behavior and self observation is that we only shed un-beneficial habits and replace them with desirable new patterns when we get in touch with our core values.

I cringe to type that "values" word. It is so overused that my eyes slide right over its worn out surface. Who needs more cliches? But the fact remains that we do have powerful, invisible principles which represent the best qualities of life (freedom, health, love, and creativity to name just a few). We also wrestle with unseen forces rising from the unconscious which sabotage our ability to live in line with the higher values.

Here's a simple exercise:
  1. Find a quiet place. Bring along a pen and notebook.
  2. Take inventory. Run your mental binoculars over the landscape of your life. Allow yourself to simply observe how you are showing up in the world at this present time.
  3. Note the areas which provide peace and comfort. Everyone (even those who feel like their lives are a total mess) has corners of themselves which are in order and for which they can be grateful. Are you good about balancing your checkbook or being kind to stray animals or expressing love to your children? Write that down. It's important to recognize and celebrate everything that is working already in life.
  4. Now list the hotspots which smolder away like volcanoes waiting to erupt. This is the stuff that wakes you up at 3 a.m. with knots in your stomach and fills you with fear, self-disgust and anger. Do you struggle with some addiction or have a horribly tangled relationship or can't seem to gather the strength to get out of a career rut? Write about these as honestly as you can. Don't worry about figuring out what to do with them at this point. The act of acknowledging them is powerful by itself.
  5. Next, look at the lower-grade frustrations. Start these sentences with "I want to...". I want to lose weight, stop smoking, finally quit procrastinating and write that book, get the finances in order, go back to school, etc.
Number 5 is where most people start with their New Year's Resolutions, and (because they haven't stepped back to see the whole picture) it is also why they inevitably chuck those good intentions out the window after just a few days or weeks.

These important-but-less-powerful desires get crushed in the war between the greater forces in our lives. However, these are also wonderful clues. We can follow them and discover where they are attached to what we truly wish to manifest.

Now that we have a bird's-eye map, it is time to identify a few simple values. These are the brightest stars in our sky...the inner compass by which we can chart new paths. They represent what we desire most, but they are also silent. We have to spend time and pay attention or the guidance they offer is lost in the clamor and stress of daily life.

Go back to your notebook now and write just a few words. These are non-specific principles but you will know they are your highest values because you will feel them resonate like an inner gong. Famous psychologist, Abraham Maslow, would call them meta-needs and meta-motivations. They transcend the basic drives to maintain physical or social life.

Here are a few to consider:
  • Freedom
  • Creativity
  • Wholeness (whole-person health: body, mind, and spirit)
Do you have your own to add? I invite you to pick the one which strikes the deepest chord and do a short journey of imagination.

Let's say that you've chosen "freedom".

Visualization:
With your eyes closed, allow your mind to paint images of freedom.
  • What does a perfectly free you do?
  • Where are you living?
  • What are you doing for work?
  • What clothes are you wearing?
  • How does your body appear?
  • What does this perfectly free creature no longer do?
Spend time with this process and you'll re-discover an amazing ability to dream and imagine. Remember how you were as a child and anything seemed possible? This grownup practice becomes vivid, fun and magical when we allow ourselves to connect with what is most important. Specific ideas for change flow easily from this creative place.

Finally, draw some conclusions from this exercise. Pick just a couple of new behaviors from your flight of fancy and try them on. Begin to gently align yourself with the directions from your inner values-compass. A little more each day, make small choices which are congruent with what you love most. This is the way of real transformation and you will be amazed by how your life can change in a short time when you move beyond resolutions and discover your own path of blissful purpose.

To explore this aspect of personal growth more, download your complimentary ebook/audio program titled: "Re-Mapping Your Life: Get Unstuck, Chart New Paths, Follow Your Bliss". Get this now by visiting http://www.YourAwakenedSelf.com. Jacob Nordby is the founder of this site, a speaker, transformation mentor and published author.

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