Happy New Year! The annual ritual of making resolutions is in full swing, as millions of people emerge from the season of consumption resolved to make changes in their lives. The fact that at least 80% of new year’s resolutions fail does not seem to deter people from making them year after year.
One possible reason for the low success rate may be that the focus is misplaced or at least incomplete. The endless supply of strategies tend to emphasize direction, that is, specific steps to take to make change occur. But the low success rate of even the most detailed plans suggest that it may be as much about the meaning involved as the direction.
Direction speaks to explicit goals and how to accomplish them. Meaning speaks to underlying motives and what ultimately drives us. Everything we do made sense to us at one time, even if unconsciously so. The problem is we hang onto our habits even when our circumstances have changed. Maybe you developed your strategy when you were young and now have better ways to fill your needs. Maybe you are repeating an old pattern out of love for someone who has that pattern and you need to find a better way to express your love (e.g., mother over-feeding you as a child and you’ve kept doing that yourself). Great books for exploring your reasons include The Artist’s Way and Women, Food and God. Look inside yourself and understand that reason and consider if it is still working for you. Then give yourself a better reason to follow a new course.
We can learn a lot from others about direction, but we need to look inside ourselves to illuminate the meaning that drives our behavior. What purpose does smoking, over-eating, avoiding conflict or not exercising serve? What inner need is being met by continuing behaviours that we know – at a rational level – are not good for us?
Direction is external, and strategic, while meaning is internal, and felt. Having direction helps us get things done, but without meaning to sustain and breathe life into the direction, growth and change tends to be short lived (hence the high failure rate of new year’s resolutions).
Spending time reflecting on these types of questions can shed light on the underlying motives that shape our behavior. It also positions us well to take full advantage of the many strategies available to help change our ways. Direction AND meaning: they work together to make New Year resolutions stick. Good luck!