- It has an auspicious ring to it, doesn’t it?
Not only are we entering into yet another new year, but we’re also standing at the precipice of a new decade and there’s something about 2020 that just feels different. Maybe it’s the homonym of 20/20 meaning clear and sharp vision? Or it could be the connotation of “hindsight 2020” that is spurring all sorts of extra reflection and hopes for redirection this year?
Looking back at 2019, was there something that you had hoped to accomplish before “life” happened and altered your plans? Did you set a New Year’s resolution and then the rest of the year blew by without any miraculous transformation taking place? Was 2019 supposed to be “your year,” but now you’re standing at the start of 2020 in an eerily similar place?
The Enemy of Change
It is impossible to strive for or accomplish any real or meaningful resolution without confronting change’s arch nemesis: Resistance.
Resistance can take many forms. It can be internal, manifesting in the forms of procrastination, fear, victimhood, or self-medication. Resistance can be external, taking the shape of loved ones who may indicate you are “changing” and “not the person you once were.” Or it can even look like society as a whole, casting the illusion that whatever goal you are chasing is unpopular or undesirable.
Though it is often unclear how resistance might show up in your life when a goal is set, one thing is certain: if you are working towards something, resistance will try and stand in your way. Even more daunting, the more you want or desire to attain a goal or invoke a lasting change, the stronger the resistance will be.
As Steven Pressfield put it, “like a magnetized needle floating on the surface of oil, resistance will unfailingly point to true North — The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” Despite the fact that all of this talk of resistance might be a little intimidating (there’s resistance at work in real-time for you), the acknowledgement of it in your life can actually be of great benefit as you can resistance as a tool – a compass, per se – to help guide you towards your calling.
“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” – Fred Devito
Become enlightened to your honest desires
How bad you actually want to achieve a goal is as important as your plan to do so. Is the reason that you haven’t finished your business model is because deep down you don’t think you would succeed as a CEO or is it because you know you would and that reality intimidates you?
Reconciling your ideal self with your real self can be challenging and even at times disheartening. However, having accurate insight into who you actually are versus who you wish you could one day be does not mean that you can never become that ideal version of yourself. In fact, it lays a stronger foundation for what you need to do in order to get there.
Take time to honestly reflect on your desires and to identify your innate and signature strengths. Use that insight to lay the groundwork for your goal roadmap.
Align your mind with your goals first, and the behaviors will naturally follow.
Encourage yourself by setting realistic and attainable goals
Humans are creatures of habit. Whatever you do, say, or even think stems from something that you have observed, learned, and even mastered. Therefore, if you are attempting to pick up a new habit or routine, you not only have to initiate a new pattern of behavior, but you also have to unlearn years of training against said new habit, which is not an easy process.
So how do you retrain your brain?
By feeding it daily evidence that whatever change you are trying to usher in is better for you than the alternative. Identify the real motivating factor behind whatever goal you have set for yourself and think of daily measures you can track that will encourage you by providing your brain hard, irrefusable data that you are making progress towards your dream.
For example, if your goal is to go to the gym three times a week, you’re likely going to be less successful if your inspiration to get up early every morning before work is the cute new gym clothes you just spent a small fortune on. In reality, you don’t want to work out because you look good doing it, conversely you probably want to exercise so that you can not only look good, but also feel good, have more energy, and live a longer, healthier life.
On day one of your new workout routine, see how many pushups you can do and notice how you feel while doing them. Try this again on day two, three and four. Guaranteed by day five you’ll already be able to do more pushups with less strain.
By cutting your goal into small, attainable chunks and taking clear notice of your daily successes, your brain will begin to adapt its data stores and eventually learn to overcome the persistent voice of resistance and start believing in your ability to accomplish whatever you set out to do. Once again, change your mentality and the behaviors will follow.
Identify and initiate practices that will motivate you to alter your routine and that build upon your innate skills and bolster your self-efficacy. And, of course, celebrate your successes along the way, no matter how small.
Enable yourself – Don’t cut corners
Popular knowledge is that it takes 30 days to form a new habit, however research suggests the average is actually closer to 66 days (Lally, Van Jaarsveld, Potts, and Wardle, 2010). Though skipping one day (or even two in a row) on occasion doesn’t result in a significant decrease in the likelihood of habit formation, this is only if the behavior is continued for three consecutive days following the lapse.
That being said, the difference between amateurs and professionals is regularity of practice. For aspiring writers, punching out some poetry on a Sunday afternoon is a lovely avocation. However, for those who actually make writing their vocation, the best time and place to write is every morning at 9:00 am sharp. In order to be a writer, then write, and write often. The same can be said for any goal.
Hold yourself accountable for your own success. Develop practice plans and recruit family and friends as social support to be aware of and to actively participate in your plan. Find ways to gently remind and encourage your daily practice and prevent any sort of relapse. Finally, schedule regular “checkpoints” to evaluate your strategies and revise, if necessary.
Already broken your New Year’s Resolution?
Don’t fret – What is it about New Years that gets everyone so riled up for new beginnings anyway? You aren’t alone. 80% of people end up NOT working on their goals by the end of January, and by February, the energy of your desire to change has fizzled like New Year’s Eve fireworks.
In actuality, every new day – in fact, every single instant – is a fresh opportunity to change and grow. We don’t need to wait around for the symbolic start of a new calendar year when each moment is as good of a time as any to pick up that paintbrush, dust off your keyboard, or dig your bike out of the garage.
Get smart about your plan. You need strategies to keep you going. We go through psychological stages of change and without a plan, we fail up to 80% of the time.
Further reading and resources:
Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C., Potts, H., & Wardle, J. (2010) How habits are formed: Modeling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 1009, 998-1009.
Nowack, K. (2017) Facilitating successful behavioral change: Beyond goal setting to goal flourishing. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, Vol 69, No. 3, 153-171.
Pressfield, S. (2002). The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle. New York: Black Irish Entertainment LLC.