Each year we see the psychic slate wiped clean for us, the calorie count set back to zero, the goals written neatly at the top of our agendas in colorful, promising ink. Whether it’s learning a new language or giving up nail biting, a New Year brings a highly marketed opportunity to dazzle us with motivation, to “improve”, to grow, to challenge ourselves, to be the best version of ourselves.
But something happens just days or weeks after each New Year. The shiny can-do determination felt in the Auld Lang Syne song (thank you, Dougie MacLean) sounds distant, the once heady anticipation of a New Year looks daunting on the other side, the conviction felt with the palpable count down around the world now seems like a pipedream, the reality of Time marching on with the same challenges before the magical New Year’s Eve.
So how can we sustain motivation long past the bells and whistles of New Year’s Eve? How can we keep chugging along towards the very things we find downright hard? How can we stave off the onslaught of intoxicatingly-convenient-and-must-less-painful excuses in the weeks and months to come?
Many are familiar with the baby step philosophy: taking those small steps that lead to big changes. And while that works fantastically well for many, this doesn’t address the core issue for sustained change: motivation.
My book, The Friendship Diet, explores the metaphor of food and personal relationships: we are starving for affection, we can fall prey to Diet Coke denial with the people we love, we find certain things our partner says or does distasteful. But the diet isn’t only about our romantic relationships. It’s about knowing our hunger, the why behind the things we do with everyone from our partner to our boss.
So, before you ring in the New Year with your mental (or physical) to do list of resolutions, ask yourself a couple of important questions:
- Why do I want to do these things? (i.e., lose weight, learn Tai Chi, give up smoking, adopt a dog, take up gardening, etc.)
- How will my life be different with these changes?
The why is the oxygen supply of motivation. The how challenges our assumptions and potential roadblocks.
For example, let’s say you want to lose weight.
The why may be because you want to look and feel good in your body.
How your life would be different requires you to get specific and real with yourself. It’s no longer enough to think in cliches—not if you want to stay motivated. The more detailed your list here, the more likely your goal will manifest.
So, imagine how a life with weight loss would look and feel. Maybe it’s easier to get in and out of a chair, or you’re no longer out of breath when you take the stairs. Maybe it’s feeling sustained energy throughout the day. Maybe it’s donating your former-sized clothing to Goodwill. Maybe it’s the healthy annual physical report from your internist.
I recently went through this exercise with a colleague regarding her goal of weight loss and the how of her resolution plan brought up a roadblock:
“I can’t give up my clothing. If I give it up, I know I’ll start putting on the pounds again.”
Going through the how caused my colleague to run smack into something she didn’t want to acknowledge. But if we don’t digest the why and how of what we want to change, we are unlikely to remain motivated.
Thinking we can gain weight simply by giving away our former size is magical thinking. We are all susceptible to irrational logic like this when we delve into the potential landmine of how. The key is to recognize the mental panic for what it is (our brains valiant effort to protect us) and stay the course.
And the why behind our motivation offers a conduit to potential discomfort as well. After all, the reason behind wanting to lose weight might stem from a childhood memory of bullying and bear no reality on the present. My colleague can still hear the taunts of a kid in school call her “Pillsbury Doughboy.” By tuning into the why behind her weight loss goal, she gained awareness of the potential tricks our minds can play.
“I can still remember my cheeks burning every time he called me that.”
Naming the why, dispels the false narrative. Naming the why allows us to better tackle the potential hurtles of the how (i.e., donating her now baggy clothes to Goodwill). Any negative emotion (i.e., shame) from the past does not need to journey with us into our present or future. And when we can change the feeling behind an experience, our resolution potential is limitless.
Wishing you and healthy and rewarding New Year:-)