THE RESOLUTION REVOLUTION
On January 1st many of us optimistically resolve to get our finances in order, stop drinking, smoking and overeating, and then by January 3rd we seriously start to consider finally starting therapy for compulsively lying to ourselves all these years. By the end of the year, research shows 92 percent of us will have broken our resolutions or never started.
What do the 8 percenters know that most others don’t? Are they more disciplined? Motivated? Do they have better support systems in place?
Turns out that they’re just like you and me – except that they’re probably asking themselves a few really good questions that help them get from resolution to reality.
Question #1: Is this something I truly want?
The weight you should lose, or the food you should eat or the books you should read? Cut that should out! The first step in successfully keeping your new year’s resolutions is to stop doing what you think you should do and determine what you truly want. Who or what do you value most? If it’s family or a special someone, how will your resolution help you to be your best for them? How will your resolution help deepen that relationship you treasure? Or let you immerse yourself in something you love doing – whether that’s painting or skiing?
Dr. Edward Deci and Dr. Richard Ryan pioneered the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) of motivation. They have found that the most enduring motivation is intrinsic motivation. In other words, if, deep down, you really want to learn a new language, you’re more likely to stick with it than if you think you should learn Spanish before you go to Mexico.
It’s not what your new year’s resolution is, but why you want it.
Question #2: What must I do, in order to become who I want to be?
The goal of “lose weight” is simple enough, but it’s actually quite difficult to achieve in reality. It’s like the goal to “get rich.” How rich? What are the steps to get there? What resources will you need? And when do you expect to be rich?
Results come from behavior. If you have a vague “result” or goal in mind, it’s hard to know if you’ve succeeded. But taking the 7 pm yoga class on Tuesdays and Thursdays builds in a specific time, place and behavior that contributes to your resolution. It also makes clear what to do to get back on track toward your goal, if you miss a class.
Question #3: How do I explain setbacks to myself?
What type of person makes a resolution, sticks with it for a time, even sees results and then stuffs the whole thing up by doing something completely contrary to the outcome he or she desires? The answer is someone just like you, or me, and anyone who has ever set out to do anything. The difference is the story we tell ourselves about what that “miss” means. A setback or sidetrack is a single, isolated event. What you do occasionally is not reflective of all that you are permanently. But we often tell ourselves we’re failures just because we had a cookie or skipped a run.
Dr. Martin Seligman says our self-talk has permanent, pervasive and personal dimensions. The personal dimension is the degree to which we internalize an event – “I am so undisciplined, I always cheat on my diet” – or externalize it: “Wow, I was really hungry and that dessert cart took advantage of me!”
Then, how much influence do we tell ourselves that event has over our lives? Is it a universal disaster, or a single instance? That’s the pervasive aspect of self-talk: “I can’t do anything right” vs. “I can do this if I put my mind to it.”
Finally, there’s the degree to which we believe and tell ourselves something is changeable, or not. That’s the permanent dimension of our self-talk: “I always miss my class at the gym” vs. “I usually can get to class if I plan ahead.”
Our goals are not a nearby destination. Our journey there is at least a year long, and arguably more lasting than that. How well we navigate the territory we need to cover to get there depends on the map we have, and questions shape our mental maps. So, if you want a better map to get there, you’ll need better questions.