All the important January words seem to begin with ”re” — recycle, return, regift, reflect, resolve. Think about the word “resolve.” It sounds like a problem we’ve solved before, and now we have to re-solve it — the revolving door of resolutions.
Just as “Lose 20 Pounds” strides out the door, full of holiday goodies and ready to hit the lettuce and the treadmill, “Learn Spanish” limps in, thoroughly beat and dejected since Spanish 101 ended last spring. Out through the revolving door goes “Get Organized,” with a Santa’s sack full of Christmas excess, and in crawls scrawny “Create a Budget,” looking like a member of the Dust Bowl Joads, completely neglected since January last.
Why does our resolve often start with a bang on Jan. 1 and end with a whimper long before Dec. 31?
Think a minute about the little New Year’s resolution voice in your head. Is it an exacting drill sergeant? A micromanaging boss? An evil-stepmother saying you’ll never make it to the ball anyway so why try? A gentle mentor? A supportive coach? I used to think that only the drill sergeant would motivate me to stick to my resolutions and achieve my goals.
My inner drill sergeant was ideal for short-term goals and quick bursts (20 more minutes on the treadmill, 10 more crunches), but for larger projects, all those internal barked commands to “just do it!” got me down. Working with coaches who have been gentle mentors has taught me that allowing for flow, play and imperfection is much more effective to achieving goals and making changes. It’s also much more enjoyable.
On one occasion a life coach had me draw what was on my mind. I drew an enormous spiky mountain range, with myself as a tiny stick figure trudging toward the pointy top to plant a flag — typical Western-world goal imagery. After discussing the drawing with me, she asked, “What if you didn’t go up. What if you went down?” My initial reaction was horror; going down was not part of my plan. She asked me to draw it anyway. What might it look like to achieve my goal in a different way?
I drew a river flowing down from the mountain, all curves and ripples. I drew a little figure dancing beside it. This was an extremely powerful exercise because I realized that the traditional way I tackled a resolution was to make it a chore that I had to work at, that was uncomfortable, and that was not much fun. Letting it flow, making the process more playful, more natural, and allowing for “ripples” (mistakes) made me much more likely to stick with it.
I’m still not 100 percent comfortable with this flowy, imperfect approach, but it is definitely helpful to not have the crushing guilt that comes from abandoning a resolution completely after the first cookie, or missed Spanish class or other misstep.
Since we tend to create the same resolutions every year (that revolving door), this year take apart your resolution and re-solve it. Look at it with fresh eyes. How can you become a gentle mentor or supportive coach to yourself and approach it in a new way?
If you usually outline your resolutions with bullet points or a numbered list, try drawing, painting, poetry or another way of expressing them, particularly if you struggle with the same resolutions year after year.
Try talking to yourself; ask yourself questions about what this resolution will do for you, how it will change your life, make you happier, etc. Spend at least a half-hour asking yourself questions about the habit change or goal to get to where the resistance is. If you normally take a bad cop, fault-finding approach with yourself, try a good cop, complimentary approach and see how that feels.
If you always set yourself up for failure with a super-strict low-calorie diet, what if you tell yourself you can eat whatever you want, but eat it slowly and mindfully? If you are trying to get organized, rather than resolve to change everything in your office, why not simply open and deal with the incoming mail every day? It’s a drastically different, even scary, approach.
The “One Day at a Time” mantra from 12 Step programs is a good tool, too. Don’t think about giving up candy for the whole year. Just change your habit day by day. Mess up one day, look at what triggered you, let it go, and start fresh.
Losing 10 pounds, writing a book or getting organized is never a straightforward endeavor. There are many, many emotional and circumstantial factors that emerge as you flow toward goals like these. By looking at them from many angles, being gentle and supportive with yourself — allowing mistakes — and employing a creative, playful method or two, you might be able to replace the revolving resolution door with something solid — a lasting achievement.