The cashier at the supermarket yesterday asked me what my New Year’s resolution is… “oh I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, because I believe if you really want to do something you don’t wait for the New Year’!”, I said… The disappointment on his face was clear, because I spoiled his (and 50% of the population’s) dream and because obviously he had one. I thought to myself I was a bit too cynical and showed interest in his, which was he is going to make a point of reading one book per week… ?!
Here’s the thing people… they just do not work! For several reasons… First, it’s a form of procrastination. If you really wanted to start a diet, quit smoking, embark on a mountain-climbing exhibition and save the world, you would have done so in the first place and you wouldn’t be waiting for a milestone date on the calendar. Psychologist Timothy Pychyl (professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada) calls this ‘’cultural procrastination’’, which is an effort to reinvent oneself. We are not ready to change habits and it’s bad habits we are talking about here, we set unrealistic goals and expectations (which may not even be ours) and hence the high failure rate.
Another very significant reason, which goes deeper, is that, from any seemingly ‘bad’ behaviour we gain something positive, consciously or unconsciously. So, then we tell ourselves a story (a little ‘lie’) so that we feel good about it. You see, we hate internal conflict and our minds are Masters at making sure we deal with these ugly little monsters. We call this Cognitive Dissonance in psychology. The best example of this is smoking. We know for a fact all the adverse effects of smoking on one’s health. Yet, ask any smoker and they will say that it helps them concentrate and focus, it relaxes them, and so on. We stay in relationships that may be toxic and we tell stories to ourselves that ‘oh he/she will change’, or ‘this is how he/she is’, etc. We unconsciously want to maintain the status quo because getting out of that relationship is so much harder. And the beast we know is always better than the beast we don’t know… You see we are not hardwired for change… and our brain’s first response is similar to that of an ERROR of a false computer command.
So, when we want to change a behaviour and we seem to fail over and over again more often than not, it’s NOT about lack of urgency, inadequate incentives or lack of discipline, it’s because we are hanging on usually unconsciously to a set of individual beliefs and mindsets, which are very powerful and keep us from changing. Unless we make the effort to uncover those beliefs and mindsets that are holding us back, we will keep coming back to the same resolutions over and over again. And most probably we will get even more demotivated because we are failing and give up completely.