Most of us see the start of a new year as a natural starting point for change. And it is an excellent time to take stock, re-evaluate, and make plans. However this positive practice can go off the rails when you expect yourself to become a completely different person between the last day of December and the first day of January.
It’s human nature to project our better selves into the future and believe we’ll be less busy, less stressed, have more willpower, and make better decisions later. But the truth is that later will come and unless something has changed, our lives will basically be the same. This is why most New Year’s Resolutions are broken and abandoned within weeks, if not days.
When life is the same, the decisions you make will likely also be the same. It’s not possible for transformation to happen when nothing has changed except the calendar date. Willpower isn’t enough.
And that’s ok.
It’s ok, because you’re ok just as you are, even if that is a messy, struggling place.
As I go deeper into my master’s study in positive psychology I’m realizing more and more the deep truth of this statement.
It’s ok if you don’t transform, don’t keep your resolutions, and don’t become the desired better version of yourself. You are already doing your best with the resources and support you have, and that is good enough.
Paradoxically, accepting this is the starting point for change.
Humans have an innate drive for improvement. It’s why we enjoy games and competition, with others and with ourselves. What trips us up is when we think we aren’t good enough already. This leads to a negative spiral of shame that kills the motivation and creativity we need to revamp our lives in ways that support the change we seek.
Different action requires different conditions. That is, if your resolution is to stop getting take out and start cooking at home, you won’t be able to make this change stick without bringing in new resources – whether that’s time, money, skills, or beliefs. Therefore, your excellent goals fail not because you suck, but because your life hasn’t adapted to support the new plan.
Instead of setting unrealistic resolutions for New Year’s transformation, instead pat yourself on the back for how well you’ve been doing. And if you want, think of a small change that would feel enjoyable or empowering. Pick one that is do-able within your current constraints or can be supported with a small shift in resources. Then build on that.
This is the method I use in coaching and it’s one proven to result in lasting positive change. Each small change supports other change and ultimately the small changes snowball into big change. Even three deep breaths, one bite of a vegetable, or a single stretch can jump start the process – no new you required.
I’d love to get to know you better. To get on my schedule for an informal talk with no agenda other than understanding your struggles and helping you get unstuck click here. If you need other times, use the contact form linked below.
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This week I’m reading SuperBetter – The Power of Living Gamefully by Jane McGonigal, Ph.D. It’s a life changing program for anyone struggling and I’ve started playing the SuperBetter game daily myself. I can’t recommend it enough.
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