NOTE: This post originally ran in January of 2020. At the time, we were celebrating making it through 2019. Boy we had no idea what was coming.
About the Author: Sarah is a long time member of the Dappered team, typically working behind the scenes editing posts, taking some photos, and keeping the books in good standing. She is also a certified health and life coach. Occasionally she’ll come out from behind the curtain to offer her two cents. You can follow her on Instagram. If you’re interested in learning more about self coaching, send an email to email@example.com.
Well congratulations to all of us. We made it to 2020. Despite pumping our bodies full of sugar and chemicals, elevating influencers to the status of god-like, eating laundry detergent, and creating a climate crisis, we’re somehow still here.
We did it!
Nice work everyone! PLEASE STOP EATING LAUNDRY DETERGENT.
But despite all of our shortcomings as creatures on this planet, we still possess the desire to try and better ourselves. So once a year, we harness the groundswell of determination humanity as a whole seems to muster up, and we make a resolution or two to change this, do that, stop this, get it done this year!
And for most of us, it goes to shit by the end of January. Blerg.
Last year I wrote a post about why it can be so hard to keep a resolution. I’m not going to rehash that here, but I am going to give you some tips to shift your mindset around resolutions, so maybe, just maybe, this will be the year.
#1. Question your concept of time
Your brain loves boxes. Not literal boxes, although they can be super fun if it’s a box from Amazon, or a box wrapped as a gift. I’m talking about conceptual boxes. Boxed in time. Seconds. Minutes. Hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. The tracking of time allows us to organize it, and by organizing it as detailed as we do allows us to have a cohesive, functioning society. We all know what time to tune into the football game if we’re watching it live. We know what day to vote. We know when to go to our friends house for New Year’s. And we know what day and time to start our resolution.
Slip up? No better time than now to recommit. Not next year. Not next Monday. Now. Now, now, now.
So what happens when we have our first misstep with that resolution? Most people will either a) completely give it up because it sucks to fail or b) decide to start again at a later time. Maybe tomorrow morning, or if it’s close to the weekend, next Monday. That way it will fit into a nice tidy box. Nobody re-ups their commitment at 2:43:16 pm on a Thursday. But why not? You can recommit to your resolution at any point in time.
Being so bound to perfection in time can seriously screw up your resolution intentions. If you’re dedicated to your resolution, get it back underway. NOW. No matter what day it is, time it is, moon phase it is, planetary alignment it is. Doesn’t matter. Boxed in time creates an excuse. Do. it. now.
#2. Use time as a tool
So the definition of a resolution is a firm decision to do or not do something, going cold turkey. While some people can do this, the reason so many resolutions fail is that going this route doesn’t align with how the human brain is used to functioning. We tend to create the same life experience day in day out because the programmed mind is a master of efficiency, even if it makes you efficient at something you don’t want to be efficient at.
To just suddenly stop or start something works against this. Stopping a brain pattern that is used regularly is a pretty big feat. The efficient brain is used to directing energy down the neural pathways that fire off that pattern, or behavior. Stopping it is like trying to dam a river. It can be done, but it takes a lot of effort.
Starting a brain pattern that has never been used before is also a big feat. In this case, you literally have to build the brain cells of the new pattern you want to create. The efficient brain questions whether this is a good use of energy, because there’s this other brain pattern already built that we’ve been getting by with just fine.
“Nice watch.” … “Thank you. I am using it to give myself a reasonable grace period.”
In the case of both, time can be used as a tool. If you’re having a hard time sticking to your resolution, give yourself a reasonable grace period to practice it. You can’t learn a new language in an instant. You can’t learn to play a musical instrument in an instant. You can’t write a blog post in an instant (trust us, if it were possible we’d know). So to think you can just start or stop a behavior in an instant is in most cases misguided. Which leads me to…
#3. Let go of “all or nothing”
This line of thinking is a resolution killer, plain and simple. It’s a standard a lot of people live by though. If you can’t do it all completely right, then you can’t do it at all. You’re either 100% in or 100% out. This is perfectionist BS that creates the excuse to fail ahead of time. Why do we do this? Because then we can at least control the failure. Hey look, another box for our brain! Rather than trying and stumbling into a disappointing failure, an all or nothing attitude at the outset of a resolution or goal allows us to control the narrative of failure. It give us an out. It gives us a hard line that once we cross, obviously we chose the wrong resolution or goal for ourselves, and it must be time to move on.
I think I pulled my “all.”
Baloney. It’s an excuse. It’s a very handy tool for your brain to feel good about getting started (at least you tried!) while giving yourself an out. And listen, there’s really nothing going wrong here. It’s a normal behavior. But if you want to actually create change, you have to stick to your resolution or goal, no matter how many failed attempts. No one likes to fail. But the failures are well worth it if you get there in the end.
#4. Trusting you know when to let it go
You may ask, if I’m failing at something over and over, and it’s just not working, when should I let it go? I would postulate that you know the answer to this question already. You’ve heard of “that little voice inside your head.” You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all heard it, or sensed it. We get a nagging feeling that it’s time to change. We intuitively know when something just isn’t working, but sometimes the discomfort of change trumps listening to that voice and actually making change.
If the thought of letting go is creating a feeling of relief, it’s likely NOT TIME to let go, it’s just your brain looking for an excuse to quit pursuing a goal. But if the thought of letting go makes you feel disappointed, then you’ve likely done all, or at least most of what you can, and it’s time to move on.
Don’t indulge in confusion over this. If you’re still not sure, ask yourself, what’s the point? What’s your endgame? What’s your vision? If what you’re doing isn’t tied to a reason, to a vision of a “better” future, then why the heck are you doing it? Is it because you feel like in order to earn your place on this planet you have to do it? Think, man. It can be disappointing in the moment to let go of something you’ve invested time and effort into, but that disappointment will pass. And perhaps you’ve laid the groundwork for something else, you just don’t know what yet.
#5. Have your own back. YOU define your success.
Now all that being said, let me tell you a little secret: you get to define “when it’s time to let something go”, if it’s “worth it”, what the goal means to you, the reason for your resolution… All of it. It comes from you. Yes, people love to boss other people around, tell them the best way to live, how much they should weigh and what they should wear and what food they should eat and how many drinks they should have to look cool, but not get too drunk. We love to tell each other what success looks like at work, at home, on our person, on our kids, and if others don’t live up to our personal definition, we’re judging the shit out of them. Again, normal thing for the brain to do.
You get to define success. If this is what success looks like to you? Then that is success.
But you get to define all of it (you just might not be used to doing that yourself, because society created a nice cozy box for your brain). So if a goal or resolution is taking a long ass time to accomplish, but you want to continue, that’s your choice, no one else’s. Will you pay the consequences for looking like the crazy person that won’t let go of their idea? Maybe. Again, people judge. But this is it. Your one life. YOUR one life. Have your own back in what you want. Haters gonna hate. You can’t control that. But you can control whether you believe them or not.
#6. Enjoy the ride (while puking out the car door)
We hear a lot about not obsessing about the “how”, and just getting started. There is truth to this, because once you know the “how” you’ve gone through the ring of fire and reached your destination. Trying to gain all the knowledge you can before executing on your resolution or goal is another stall tactic the brain uses. For example, say you want to lose 25 pounds, so you start researching the best diets and exercise programs and apps and fitness trackers. And you keep researching, because you’re not quite sure you’ve found all the best options. And you keep researching, because you saw an ad for some fat burning supplement that might help. And you keep researching, because there was that article about intermittent fasting and maybe that’s the route to go. This is getting caught up in the “how”, rather than keeping it simple and starting with basics, and hitting the road and just figuring the how out along the way.
The road is where the change takes place. Not when you arrive.
You know that saying “It’s not about the destination, but about the journey.” OK, fine. We should be aware of the journey. But the truth is, sometimes the journey sucks gigantic monkey balls. But sometimes along the path to reaching our goals, we have small wins. Change starts to take root, and the “how” becomes a little bit clearer. And then it promptly goes back to sucking, but eventually we get our next win. Know what those moments are? Your brain is literally building the neural networks to support your new reality. This takes time, and mindset is key in this phase. If there’s no enjoyment, why the hell would your physiology support continuing the journey? Pride, or at least some respect, for what you’re accomplishing is paramount to cuing your mind and body that yes, it is indeed worth it.
Resolutions, goals, a better life… these are all concepts of the mind. We blindly follow what other people have defined these things to be, because going back to boxes, they are predefined, built boxes, that we can easily try to step into. Granted, some of these predefined boxes truly do lead to a better existence, but quite a few don’t. It takes some effort to build your own boxes, and define your own life. And your brain can tell the story that doing this will bring on judgment from others which, yeah, probably. We are a HIGHLY judgmental species. So ask yourself: who are your resolutions and goals really for? The most fulfilling ones will be the resolutions and goals that when you ask that question, the answer is you.
Want more practical, real insight like this? Head to Sarah’s website and/or follow her on Instagram. If you’re interested in learning more about self coaching, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.