New Year Resolutions Don’t Work

New Year Resolutions Don't WorkMost people don’t understand why New Year Resolutions don’t work.

This is what I wrote about why New Year Resolutions don’t work in my 2015 book, High Impact Leadership: 10 Action Strategies For Your Ascent

New Year resolutions have become a comical theme. The classic scenario goes something like this:  In a heartbeat, people discover a truly noble desire worthy of a change effort. When they attempt to execute, they discover it’s uncomfortable, unpleasant and difficult. When close friends, associates and others hear about their attempt at their life-changing effort, they are quick to share all the stories of their friends who have failed and readily predict your failure. This adds to the discomfort, synergy ensues, and the noble desire is extinguished—a hot fire doused with freezing water. 

To bring to fruition the noble desire that comes as quick as a heartbeat may take a lifetime of strength, willpower and resolve. Strength, willpower and resolve that have not been called upon before, thus have not had a chance to develop. New nascent strengths that have not been honed on real-world experiences and that are continuously undermined by the collective, negative reinforcement of community and friends adds up to a weak support system at best. The noble desire is doomed from the start.

That’s why you will hear me often repeat as a mantra “personal resources must be developed. We do not come to be full of resolve, confident, tactful, and diplomatic and self-disciplined, self-directed, self-correcting, and self-generating naturally from birth.” The old maxim still applies. You reap what you sow. We would not expect triumphant success with other minimal inputs. If you invest $100.00 to buy a car, you know the kind of car you’ll get. You wouldn’t rely on it to carry you very far. So, too,  it is with our personal resources. If we minimally invest developing our self-discipline for example, we can’t expect it to take us to new heights. It’s simple math. Small numbers add up to equal a small sum.    

Making New Year resolutions work for you is not that complex, really. The famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Carl Jung—who developed the ground-breaking personality theory that introduced the Myers Briggs personality assessment, shed light on how to create real change.

 

Jung observed, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.” 

 

In other words, we operate by subroutines that are automatic, even subconscious. Until we see how we are directed by our thinking, previous experiences, and our conditioning, we are fated to the zombie status quo. That’s the basis for the truism; the mind is a beautiful servant but a terrible master. 

 

New Year Resolutions don’t work unless you do.

 

To make New Year Resolutions work, shift in two broad areas:

1. Responsibility

First, look in the mirror. Ask yourself, am I accepting responsibility for my life? Or, am I accusing, blaming, and declaring the problem is “out there?” Shouldering responsibility for your life is a zero-sum game. You can’t be partially responsible. In their book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin point to responsibility as fundamental to leadership. Leaders are responsible, period. Look through the window to give praises and look into the mirror to assign blame. Then, go to work shouldering the responsibility for improving your life, your condition. No one can do it for you. Not a coach, mentor, sister, or brother. You and only you can make your life what you want it to be. You must first lead yourself well!

 

Yes, it’s the same premise whether you are leading a team or yourself. Taking full responsibility for your life is the ultimate freedom. You are no longer enslaved to things outside your control. It’s like a client’s recent revelation. “Brian, I spent my life trying to control and manipulate outside circumstances for me to be OK. What a miraculously freeing discovery to realize that my being OK had nothing to do with anyone outside of myself. All the while, the power was in me!”

Looking in the Mirror

When you do look in the mirror, be sure you’re not looking to someone else as your marker. The only thing you have control over is you. That is a beautiful thing however, because this is the one area where you have complete control. The goal is to be a little better than you were yesterday, not to be better than Steve Jobs, Michael Jordon or Lebron… Does that sound ridiculous? Good! You’re on the right track.

“Happiness is a pointless goal. Don’t compare yourself with other people, compare yourself with who you were yesterday. No one gets away with anything, ever, so take responsibility for your own life. You conjure your own world, not only metaphorically but also literally and neurologically. These lessons are what the great stories and myths have been telling us since civilization began.” Jordan Peterson 

2. Awareness

One of the most courageous things any leader (human being) can do is recognize the tremendous pull on your attention to be elsewhere, somewhere more satisfying or exciting than where you are. You also recognize the internal conversations-the constant chatter of thoughts that draw tremendous amounts of energy and attention away from our direct experience of daily life. And finally you appreciate the effort of bringing back your attention over and over again as the root of goodness, nobility, and character. It’s the quality of a mindful leader. 

 

In his book, Falling Awake, Jon Kabat-Zinn describes awareness as “the innate human capacity that we hardly pay attention to. We don’t need to acquire it. We only need to develop access and familiarize ourselves with this capacity, this dimension which is more “you” and more useful than any other training or practical skill.” With awareness, rather than distracted and somewhere else, we are awake, here, now. 

 

It takes a lot of time and effort to get to the place where you see yourself with complete clarity and without condemnation. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention there’s pain and discomfort involved too. Real awareness means seeing that we have over developed the material aspects of life; skills to compete and climb the organizational chart, resume or “MBA skills.” But we are underdeveloped in character and emotion. The heightened anger and decline we are witnessing in society has everyone talking about degradation of our moral fiber. We should stop talking and take action, but where to start?

Start With You. You have to see yourself without illusion, judgment, friction or resistance. But when you do, you will not just change. Transformation becomes automatic. You won’t need motivation, supreme effort or struggle. You won’t need someone’s plan or top 10 things the best people do listicle. You will just change because you finally see yourself as you truly are. You’ll say, “Maybe I’m the dysfunctional one sometimes? Could I be the problem at least some of the time? Am I overly and rigidly attached to my opinions, my political stance?” 

 

Once you see yourself as you truly are you won’t need a new year to start. Everyday will be a New Year Resolution.

 

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

© Brian Braudis 2020, All rights reserved

 

 

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