I’m not going to talk about SMART goal setting or the usual “new year, new me” bullshit. Like you, I have seen it every year for a long time. In fact, 2020 marks my 22nd year in the fitness industry. Personally I am not one for New Year’s resolutions. I do believe the end of the year and start of another is a great time for reflection, introspection and time to plan for a better future, but I also believe any time is a great time for doing self-reflection and the like. It doesn’t have to be at the beginning of the year.
If we look at most people’s resolutions they revolve around getting healthier or fitter, earning more money, having a better social life, better relationships and so on. In order to have any of these things we have to change our behavior; and in order to do that, we inevitably have to make an internal shift.
Personally I am a very goal orientated person, but goal setting, just like resolutions, has been pushed down our throats for over 20 years by self-help and fitness industries alike. If resolutions worked for everybody we would see people realize their goals every year. The truth is that some goals simply don’t work.
The power of our thoughts and the quality of them will lead our decisions, habits, and behavior. This will ultimately lead to us achieving (or not achieving) our resolutions in 2018. So, here are some points to consider when setting your resolutions for 2018.
Connect With Your Internal View of Yourself
Call it storytelling, internal dialogue, self-talk or the unconscious dialogue that goes on in your head (whether you are aware of it or not). The things you say to yourself about yourself has a massive influence on your behavior. Most of our decision-making is based on self-stories. You unconsciously make decisions that match your idea of who you are and your identity. When you make a decision or act in a way that fits your self-story, the decision or action will feel right.
In contrast, when you make a decision or act in a way that doesn’t fit your self-story you feel uncomfortable. If you want to change your behavior and make the change stick, then you need to first change the underlying narrative that is operating. If you want to be healthy, then you have to have an operating story you tell yourself that you are a healthy or healthier person.
As author Stephen R. Covey said, “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”
When we think a thought, it elicits an emotion. We often deal with any uncomfortable feelings with addiction or unhealthy obsession—using food, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, drugs, gambling, religion, even sex and exercise to help us feel better. Initially, these things can make us feel better, but in the long term overuse of these things is often unhealthy. Relying on comfort food, for example, doesn’t help us work on the root cause of our emotions. In an emotional eating cycle, we eat “bad” food, then often judge ourselves harshly. Next, we feel guilty and shameful for eating said “bad” food and for falling off the wagon with our diet. Finally, we have catastrophic thinking where we self-sabotage and create more self-loathing and, as a result, self-medicate with more “bad” food. Rinse and repeat. These thoughts, the emotions, and behaviors that follow, hurt us.
If your self-story is one of self-flagellation and self-loathing then you are operating from a place that will never help your resolutions of being healthier become a reality. Self-soothing with forgiveness, acceptance, and self-love can be a powerful antidote to this destructive cycle of shame. Understanding this process and acknowledging the root problem can be the first step in breaking the unconscious circuit of unhealthy habits. Understanding your emotions will be the number one thing to work on if your resolutions in 2018 are to become a reality.
Don’t Make Your Resolutions Out of Obligation
Your why for your resolutions is crucial to your success in achieving them. I believe doing things for others can be a very strong extrinsic motivator—getting fitter so you can run around with your kids, honoring a passed or living family member or looking good for the opposite sex. Yet, time and time again I find that when the going really gets tough when plateaus are reached when there are setbacks and failures, those who are doing things for reasons outside of themselves are often the first to quit.
Instead, when you have a big internal and intrinsic why and when you are doing things that align with your purpose and your highest values, you will find you have a bigger yes burning inside of you. This will allow you to say no to all other things that get in the way and will help you overcome obstacles in your way. Operating from a place of purpose and values trumps motivation anytime. Motivation comes and goes. The driving force that is left behind will help set up the habits and discipline required to soldier on. We can waffle on about discipline as much as we want, but habits are underpinned with a deep drive that comes from an internal shift.
Have you ever thought about what would make you happy? What you want? Many of the resolutions we set are not necessarily what we genuinely want. Have you ever filtered out what everybody else thinks, what everybody else wants and ignored everybody else’s judgment and criticism? So much of the time we are worrying about what other people think of us to gain validation, external gratification and acceptance—the very things that we have forgotten to give to ourselves. We often make our resolutions due to obligation rather than a genuine burning desire and passion to make them happen for ourselves.
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature” – Marcus Aurelius
Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence, also known as emotional quotient (EQ), is one of the things I wish I had learned about at school and wrapped my head around at a much earlier age. How we feel about things determines, for the most part, the choices we make and our behavior. Regardless of whether it is becoming more financially literate, getting healthier and fitter, or being better at relationships, all of these resolutions require one thing: you must work through any preconceived ideas, beliefs or thoughts that are not working for you or are harmful. If you continue to bring along your baggage, the thoughts and beliefs that are not working for you currently (whether you are consciously aware of them or not), you will continue to have the same results.
Sometimes EQ can come in the form of taking control of our environment so it leads us closer to our resolutions. What we know from research is that your environment and the systems you have in place are far more important than willpower and grit. We forget that often our environment creates and controls us, not the other way around. A classic example of this is avoiding certain people or coping with the saboteurs and hecklers on your health and fitness journey. This group can include friends, family members or even partners. It is navigating the rough sea of sensations, emotions, people or locations that trigger poor choices. It can be impatience with your results, trying to be perfect, testing yourself too early with particular food situations or being overconfident and thinking that you don’t have any more to learn, only to not have a strategy for difficult situations or a contingency plan for a bad day. Maybe you are too proud to ask for a hand on your journey to keep you accountable or to track your progress—two of the main reasons why most resolutions fail.
It might also be how you view setbacks and failures. If we look at our success and failures in the same way, as a victory in feedback, all of a sudden our perspective on things and our self-story can change. All successes are just a string of failures. And, in fact, our failures give us the opportunity to simply tweak what it is we are doing in order to learn. If more people viewed setbacks in this way, we would see a lot more people sticking with their resolutions.
Maybe it’s being self-aware of procrastination, the little voice inside the head that is scared of the resolution, maybe it’s saying we aren’t good enough. Maybe your goals are too big and unrealistic and you underestimate the difficulty of changing what is normal for you. Sometimes we forget action begets more action and if we don’t change something in our daily routine, no matter how small, nothing else changes.
EQ also comes in the form of falling in love with the journey, the habits, and the process. It is easy to fall in love with the destination, the results, and the outcome. But falling in love with the habits required to get there is far more important, otherwise, we will simply never get there. The realization of goals does not change a person. Instead, the thinking that changes along the journey and the internal shift to realizing a goal, is what ultimately changes a person, not the destination. Placing value on what is learned along the way rather than the goal itself is emotionally intelligent.
Change the Way You Think in 2020
There is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to be better off financially, wanting to be ripped, to have better sex and relationships, or whatever your resolution is. They are, however, resolutions that lie outside of ourselves. Maybe this year it is time for a different approach if you have been unsuccessful in the past. There is no doubt these things will improve our lives, but often we think that these external things will bring us happiness. In fact, however, the quality of our thinking will dictate how we behave, influence the decisions and choices we make, and determine how happy we actually are. When the quality of our thinking is better, we naturally gravitate toward the things that are better for us.
Just remember that changing the way you think is just as important, if not more important, than trying to change what you do.