Change is a Process Not a Resolution
How to approach your goals in the New Year
I love the buzz around the New Year and am excited about the new decade as we venture forward in this millennia. With 2020 vision, I’m hopeful we can see ourselves and others with a softer, kinder lens. With that being said, I was never fond of making resolutions.
My biggest issue with New Year’s resolutions is they comprise of lists — lists requiring me to-do. Does anyone need more things to-do? I know I don’t. Instead, I prefer tackling small goals by answering simple yes or no questions.
Do I use my phone too much? Yes. Am I ready to stop? No.
Do I want to write a book? Yes. Am I ready to write it next year? No.
Is it time to quit antiperspirant? Yes. Am I ready to switch to deodorant? Yes.
By asking myself questions, these issues are brought to the forefront of my thinking. I might not be ready for complete change, but I get the process started without pressure and without having to do a thing.
Bigger goals such as, “I want to double my salary” or “I want to lose 50 pounds” emphasize the result and not the process. They’re also not easy to accomplish in ten years, let alone one. Yet, does focusing on these objectives increase the likelihood they will be achieved?
Not according to statistics. Apparently only 8% of Americans fulfill their New Year’s resolutions.
A friend once told me about a book called, “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking” by Allen Carr. It was written for smokers who were trying to quit, but its principles could be applied to other undesired habits such as overeating.
This book was way ahead of its time when it was published in 1985. Instead of urging readers to stop smoking immediately and bombarding them with threats and fear tactics, Carr chose a different route.
He suggested the readers smoke as much as they wanted while reading the book. They could also smoke more than usual, if they preferred. But once they finished the book, that’s when the smoking ceased. Carr made it clear they could take as many years as they wanted to read it.
Bottom line: He didn’t push or rush them.
Can you imagine what would happen if we gave ourselves that sort of permission to take our time and reflect on our process? What would we realize in the meantime?
What Carr’s book revealed was the social crutch cigarettes provided. Once smokers were aware of the crutch they could view cigarettes as a prop rather than a need. He reflected on why children never used a crutch in social settings and what it would be like to be as carefree.
Carr’s method worked not only for himself (a smoker of 30 years) but also for countless others. Yet, its efficacy wasn’t because he was teaching some sort of trick or short-cut to get to the finish line. The premise of his book was understanding what led to the habit in the first place. Carr respected the process of change.
Setting intentions has value, but the timeline is less important. Why rush? You could have many goals, but you might not be ready to commit to change. Wanting results more than the process is why most people struggle with fulfilling their resolutions. Then when they don’t reach their goal at the end of the year, they feel defeated.
Losing weight used to be a huge fixation of mine and there were days I would have tried anything to shed those extra pounds. But despite several attempts, I still held on to the weight for a few reasons:
I wasn’t ready to let it go
When I tried to lose weight it didn’t work or last
I wanted to do it my way
The few times I did temporarily lose weight, I knew I’d gain it all back. Somehow, I just knew. Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Regardless, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t control my habits and felt like a huge failure.
Now, I understand the reason was due to only having a goal with no process. I wanted to lose weight so badly in order to feel great that I didn’t think about the triggers leading me to eat, or why I felt so empty in the first place.
Experiences like these shed light on why New Year’s resolutions don’t always work. The societal and subsequent self-imposed pressure to implement goals — without exploring the underlying habits — is counterproductive.
Instead, giving space and time with the process of change is more productive. Trying to push through hurdles when you’re not ready rarely amounts to anything other than feeling bad. It’s better to evaluate where you’re at and determine if the goal is realistic.
Additionally, examine the triggers surrounding your goal. Do you like going to the gym? If not, maybe it’s because the atmosphere doesn’t suit you. Does high intensity training like CrossFit seem too hard? With a 30% injury rate reported by participants, maybe your intuition is trying to protect you from extreme objectives.
As this New Year approaches, rather than think about all of the things you want to do, think about all of the things you’ve already done. Whether it’s through gratitude or just reflecting, being mindful of how much you’ve accomplished is its own reward.
It’s easy to compare ourselves to others when people often post their best selves and achievements on social media. Thinking others have it all while you don’t perpetuates this feeling of lack and inadequacy. But if that’s the case, who are these resolutions for anyway? I suggest taking in the breadth of the highlights from your own life — the triumphs you are most proud of. Maybe it was running a marathon, getting an award, finishing school, landing your first job, or starting a family. Remember whatever it was — you did it. Take a few moments to reflect on those accomplishments knowing you earned them and they’re yours. Then think about what it took to get there.
Attaining those things probably didn’t happen overnight or as a New Year’s resolution. Reaching milestones requires growth and change. It’s a process, not a destination. In hindsight, it’s the journey, not the goal, that got us there.
Originally published at https://medium.com/the-ascent on March 31, 2020.