Reach Out

How To Set New Years Resolutions That Actually Stick

inner work Dec 30, 2019

New Year’s Resolutions are a time-tested tradition — and with the new decade upon us, the energy around them is even higher. But so often they fail and make you feel bad about yourself. This decade, let’s not do that.

As you consider new year’s resolutions (or new decade’s resolutions), here’s what to do.

1. Know what you’re giving up, not just what you’re adding

If your new year’s resolutions have to do with self-improvement (working out, learning a language, reading more books, meditating etc), remember the practical truth that when you add something to your plate, you have to take something off.

Gonna work out more? Great. What will you give up to make room for that in your schedule? (TV show? Calls with friends? What, exactly?)

2. Right-size for your life

One of the biggest mistake people make is overcommit. This is a recipe for shame. Please don’t do this to yourself.

Some of my previous years’ resolutions were hilariously over the top. “I’m going to work out 5x/week, meditate 60 minutes per day, read a book a week, and journal every night!”

Lol. No. (It didn’t work out for me then.)

Humans are complex systems. Small changes can have big impacts. If you’ve got a lot on your plate, just start working out 1x/week, or start meditating 5 min in the morning, and increase incrementally after a few weeks.

I currently work out 3-5 times per week, meditate 30 minutes per day, read at least 15 minutes per day, and journal every night. But I did NOT start that way. It’s taken me years to get to this level of daily commitments. Are there people who could just jump right in? Maybe. But I had to work up incrementally.

3. Consider vertical, not just horizontal growth

From a previous post:

Horizontal growth means developing our skills by doing things like learning a language, practicing an instrument, or mastering spreadsheets. Vertical growth means deepening our personhood by cultivating true self-awareness, confronting our shadows (dark and golden), and transcending our fears.

In the West, we tend to approach self-development with a preference toward the horizontal. To become better students, we practice note-taking; to become better musicians, we practice scales; and to become better leaders, we practice public speaking, or agenda setting, or task managing.

Horizontal growth can bring great joy and be very useful, but it does not deepen our personhood (at least, not without conscious intention). We will not solve our world’s biggest problems by becoming more skillful with spreadsheets. But we may stand a chance if we relax our egos, heal our collective traumas, and awaken our deepest virtues.

As a culture, we need to rebalance systematically towards the vertical. And, lest you think that vertical growth is impractical self-indulgence, consider which is more practical to being a student: taking notes, or being curious? Or to playing music: having flawless technique, or playing with passion? Or to being a leader: speaking well, or having an open heart?

~ Me

What does this mean, practically, for your 2020 New Year’s Resolutions?

Try a deepening practice — something that will help you cultivate a more grounded presence. Take up meditation, or The Work of Byron Katie, or Internal Family Systems (read the book Self Therapy by Jay Earle), or see a therapist. (Really. They’re underrated.)

4. Understand what it actually takes to change

Why is it so hard for you to keep new year’s resolutions?

Humans are patterned creatures. The set of attitudes and behaviors that are normal for you are hard-wired in your neural circuitry. Re-wiring your brain to “be more confident” this year, or to “wake up earlier” is not as simple as deciding to. It requires repetitive, deliberate action over an extended period of time.

Let’s look at vulnerability, for instance. Let’s say you’re the kind of person who tends to power through the day and get shit done (Enneagram 3s, 7s, 8s). Because it’s almost 2020, you’ve heard it’s important for the health of your relationships to “be more vulnerable.” You’re not exactly sure what that means, but you know it has something to do with getting in touch with your feelings and showing others your soft side — the part of you that feels lonely sometimes, or the part gets sad when others don’t appreciate things you’ve done.

If you are this kind of person, think of how many years you’ve embodied this “be tough and get shit done” way of being. You are practicing this way of being every single day. In order to have the option of another way (vulnerable), you’ll need to practice the other way, somewhat a lot.

There’s a saying in neuroscience: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” (The Talent Code is an amazing book on this subject.) When you first learn how to dribble a basketball, you suck at it. It’s as if the neural pathways that correspond to dribbling are uncharted jungle territory in the brain. Some synapses trying to travel through the jungle don’t make it to the other side — which is why you keep fumbling the ball. But practice creates trails through the jungle through a neural process called myelination (“wiring together”). If you practice dribbling consistently enough, the trail becomes a like a highway. Now synapses travel easily, and you can dribble without fumbling.

What seems to be true is that “ways of being” are similar to skills in that the more worn the neural pathway, the more available it is to us. If you’re “tough,” your brain is wired to hunker down, push through hardship, and check off to-do lists. That’s great, some of the time. But if you’ve rarely cultivated your vulnerability, your sensitivity, and your capacity for emotional intimacy, you are entering the jungle. Doing so comes with all the terror of entering a “real” jungle, plus all the clumsy awkwardness of being a beginner. But do so we must, deliberately and repetitively, if we are to grow in the ways we want. Because of this, I consider it one of the greatest acts of courage to embark on this kind of journey.

To be explicit, the same is true if you are, say, a tentative person wanting more boldness (Enneagram 9s), or a storm-tossed person wanting more equanimity (4s), or a compulsively giving person wanting better boundaries (2s).

5. Work with a Coach! (Me)!

Can’t resist.

Working with a great coach can 10x your personal growth results.

Imagine having a firm, compassionate person who has extensively studied the science and practice of self-development and motivation checking in with you every week. Someone who gets you at a soul level, can help you see your blind spots, and custom designs a self-development program that produces real, observable results in your life.

Olympians do not get to the olympics without a coach. Top executives work with coaches. Generally, humans do not become who they can be without close, highly attuned support. That’s what I give.

Click here to learn more about coaching with me.

Final Thoughts

The turning of a new decade packs a real motivational punch. It’s wonderful to harness it. Just do so wisely, in a way that will actually work. Mind what you’re giving up. Start small. Think Vertical. Get a coach.

We are so much more than the patterns we have calcified into. I believe that facing our fears, un-rusting our selves, and bringing forth the wisdom, power and radiance at the bottom of us is the most important human work of the next few decades, required for the survival of our species. My prayer is that we all take such an inner journey and see that such a path is not just dark and scary, but immensely rewarding, life-giving, and yes, planet saving.

Happy holidays, however you celebrate. May your 2020 be filled with love, joy, and meaning.

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