Why New Year Resolutions have you falling down the same old holes and five ways not to fall into yours

Blog inspired by: There’s a Hole in my Sidewalk, Autobiography in five short chapters
– by Portia Nelson

Did you make a New Year’s resolution as the bells chimed farewell to 2020? Did you have a firm goal in mind as you toasted the arrival of 2021? Was it perhaps the same goal you’ve tried before? Coaches partner with people to successfully discover, set and reach their goals regularly. So, what is it with New Year’s resolutions and 2021 resolutions in particular? 

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost…. I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

The online Oxford Dictionary defines ‘resolution’ as ‘a firm decision to do or not do something’ and, ‘The quality of being determined or resolute.’ In other words, tough resolutions accompanied by a determined ‘just-should’ stick e.g. I should-just try harder and not give up. I should-just have a better plan and not get distracted. I should-just be a better (…). I should-just start/stop (…) and what about they/he/she/it ‘should-just’? The little voice that demands what we should and shouldn’t do and judging where fault lies. We are helpless.

What ‘should-just’ narrative accompanies your New Year resolution? How much of this voice stems from societal ‘should-just’ pressure and how much truly reflects your core values and life purpose? This is commonly harder to spot than we would like to believe, so use the *questions in the last section to help your enquiry. 

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

In a ‘normal’ year, over 60% of New Year resolutions last an average of just 4 weeks. We blame situations, timing or others for the perceived failure, but all reserve a private voice of self-judgement as we add an ‘If-only’ stick to our arsenal; ‘If-only’ this then I could that but it isn’t and I can’t, so why bother…? What’s your ‘if-only’ voice that accompanies failure to meet ‘should-just’ goals? Answer the * questions below again with compassionate curiosity. 

Congratulations, this means you are a human! We all set ourselves societal-values goals, give ourselves all the logical reasons why they are so important and why we need to do them, beat ourselves up for not achieving them and simultaneously feel sorry for ourselves with justifying ‘if-onlys’ to cushion the blow. Anyone who has ever been caught in a dieting loop knows this pattern all too well. It’s like having gremlins on each shoulder and being caught between their argument as it goes around in exhausting circles. No wonder we quickly find ourselves back in old, comfortable habits rather than looking for new ways out of the hole.

It is normal to desperately want something to change whilst remaining unwilling to:

  •        view the situation from different perspectives, including that of our ‘persecutor’,
  • take full responsibility for our part in the issue and repetitive patterns,
  • accept, get curious and learn from our own triggers, patterns and feelings,
  • let go of resentment, back-story, beliefs, hurt, blame and proving ourselves right and ‘at the effect of’ others wrong-doing.    

              It’s a little like longing for a piece of cake and being so upset at whoever buys the last piece in the shop, that we can’t see that the recipe and ingredients are sitting in our own store cupboard. Even if someone points this out and offers to support us through the baking process, our voices might answer, ‘But that’s not the point!’ Or, ‘How can you suggest that I break my own eggs or use my own resources…?’ All silliness aside, there is often a gaping hole between desperately wanting something and our own willingness to change our perspective.  

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in……it’s a habit….but,
My eyes are open, I know where I am.
It is my fault,
I get out immediately.

Resistance naturally follows fear of the unknown so unwillingness to change and justifying narratives are natural in a ‘normal’ year. The entire world is still hanging in the unknown after almost a year. Those of us that haven’t been directly hit by COVID-19 have still been affected in a multitude of ways that we most probably haven’t even fully realized yet and who knows what will happen next. COVID-19 delivered its own set of defense mechanism voices that have been as contagious as the virus itself. Elements that can cause a stressful situation to become a traumatic experience include (but are not limited to), a sudden change, being isolated, an uncertain future, loss, fear of loss, financial hardship, repeated exposure to traumatic events, actual or threatened death or threat to personal integrity and identity, vulnerability, loss of control and feeling helpless. This state has prolonged to become our normality. No wonder our defense mechanism voices are all trying to shout together and getting louder by the moment.

It is important to recognise what is happening and cut ourselves some slack. If you are certain that your goal comes from your own values, your purpose and your own special ‘why’ then start by writing your goal down and testing it against the *questions below. If it passes the test and still feels like it comes from your heart, then we need support from a trusted partner who will hold us accountable, keep our feet to the fire and challenge us to recognise old and new perspectives on that hole and ways around it. It’s like Albert Einstein famously said,

 We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

 In the certainty of uncertainty, focus on the learning you can gather along the way to your goal rather than the goal itself.

We can’t actually think rational thought from an emotional and triggered state. The ‘thoughts’ that get triggered are actually defense mechanism voices that leap in to keep us safe in our old, well-worn realities. If you listen carefully, you will recognise the repetitive loop. Their job is to fill in our story gaps with past memory warnings, ensure that we stay in our comfort realities and react in ways that worked in the past but no longer serve the new way of being that we aspire to. Our defense mechanisms are naturally going to be on high alert. Therefore, if we want to change something, we have to find the courage, the support and the curiosity to:

1.    Separate our own values from societal ‘shoulds’
2.    Recognise limiting beliefs about what is happening ‘to us’
3.    Shift towards being inquisitive about other perspectives
4.    Choose curiosity and search for the learning, possibilities and gift in each situation
5.    Get comfortable with learning from uncomfortable emotions, triggers and patterns
6.    Realise that we are not changing ourself but rather releasing ourself from past voices.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Prepare to recognise and plan for resistance as fear personally and with a support partner in advance. Decide what the key fears of risk could be. Ask, ‘If I change, what will I risk or lose?’ There are many layers to this question as we consider what pandora’s box change could open for us, for relationships, for our identity, for failure etc. There is much learning in the answers there; in these voices of blame, shame and criticism. Welcome the voices. Know that they are normal and simply trying to keep us safe like old friends, always there to leap to our rescue whenever we start thinking about taking risk or making changes. Again, let’s cut ourself some slack, get some support to see the whole map of the area and walk down a different street. Whatever we find there will contain a gift of learning and, who knows, perhaps an opportunity that’s been patiently waiting for you?  

I walk down another street.

* Think about the change you want until the old narrative voices start to chatter. Ask these questions with compassionate curiosity and without judgement:   

  • Whose voice are you using? Have you heard it somewhere before?
  • How old is your voice? Can you remember where it stems from?
  • How clear is your voice? Is there noise that stops you hearing it clearly? What is it?
  • What is the quieter voice behind this one?
  • Is your voice speaking from the past, present or future?
  • Whose voice are you using? Are you borrowing someone else’s?
  • Think of all the other perspectives that are also true or truer than the perspectives of the voices above. Perhaps think of a role model (alive or dead, real or fictional) and what new perspective they might offer.

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