Resolving to Make Changes

So here we are in 2012.  Have you made your New Year’s resolutions yet?  How many?  Are they new ones, or recommitments to last year’s?

This desire to improve, to make ourselves better, is so ingrained that many of us repeat this process of personal and professional assessment every year.  And, despite this drive, we all have stories of our failure at accomplishing what we set out to achieve.  What gets in our way then?

We don’t go far enough.

If you are serious about reaching your goal -- less weight, more exercise, healthier eating, more delegation, more speaking up in meetings -- you have to go deeper with yourself .  Once you’ve set your resolution, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What will I do (or not do) to keep me from more fully realizing my commitment?  How will I sabotage my efforts?

You know what this is.  And, you can’t take the easy way out and put all the blame elsewhere for your busted resolution.  This is about taking responsibility.

  1. Now think about your answer to question 1.  Imagine you actually did overcome what you said would get in your way.  How do you feel about that?  Can you identify a fear, or at least some discomfort, that is associated with doing something other than what you said in your response above? 

That uneasy feeling is at the heart something else you probably hold very dear.  Something else that is important to you and that actually prevents you from making the change you set out in your resolution.

What you’ve just done is to create a much more detailed picture of the reasons why you are likely to have difficulty sticking to your resolution.  It’s not because you have no willpower or are undisciplined.  There is an integrated system of reasonable, but rival, promises you have made to yourself.

So now what?

For one thing, notice what you have: a map of the dynamic tension that keeps you from what you say you want.  Good news: You’re not alone in this.  We all have these tensions and internal contradictions that don’t seem like contradictions because we don’t usually pay attention to them like this.

For another, if you are serious about making progress against your resolution, you now have to upset this balance you’ve just described.  To do this, see if you can identify what is it that you accept about yourself, without question.  

This will be the idea or feeling that is beneath all your work in question 2 above.  What is it that you believe about yourself that makes it possible for you to hang onto the commitment that counteracts your resolution?

Now you’re getting somewhere.  This is the level where you can begin to make lasting change.  Look for safe, small experiments you can run to begin shifting your perspective.  Don’t try to do everything at once.  Little changes in the way you conceive of yourself and your world can have outsize impact.

This is messy and really hard.  Creating change always is.

Adapted from How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.