Director of Executive Education
Many of us are thinking about the New Year that lies now open before us like a blank page, and wondering with what to fill it. Some of us will make New Year’s Resolutions, commitments to new behaviors or habits that we hope will end up filling the page with happiness and peace. The vast majority of those of us who do so will fail. Worse, many of those who do succeed in changing behaviors won’t get a 2012 full of what we hoped, but with more of the stress and strife we’re trying so hard to leave behind.
Sound like bad news? It is, but it needn’t be that way.
First, why do we fail? And what does the box of self-deception have to do with this failure? I’ll present three ideas, each with a suggestion of how to avoid the traps inherent in the box, and then we’ll look at an out-of-the-box alternative.
In the box, our resolutions are likely to come from our self-justifying images. Keeping to them will mean persisting in our resistant ways. Recall that the box is an image we portray of ourselves that, on the deepest level, justifies not seeing others as people. The boxes we carry aren’t passive; they require constant care and feeding. If we’re not aware of our boxes, we might choose things to improve that will simply continue the care for and feeding of those self-images. In setting change goals, be vigilant in asking if why you want to change is to be a better person (more helpful, a better boss, a more caring spouse), or just to keep up old appearances.
Self-deceived, we are blind to the truth. Change goals require honesty. If I need to lose weight, I have to be honest about where I am now, what I eat at each meal, etc. But when I’m burdened with self-deception, I’m blinded to the truth. I won’t weigh in each day. I’ll use an estimate on my caloric intake instead of keeping accurate counts. And I’ll justify it all away, until my goal is but a faint memory. In any area of life we want to change, we might ask ourselves what are the lies we’re already telling ourselves before we start to tell the truth.
Personal change isn’t personal. I’m a person among others. Everything I can think or do comes ultimately from my sense of what is right, or good. My actions impact others, either directly, or because in doing something for myself, I end up not doing things for them. Finally, when I’m in the box, I feel isolated. Any invitation to focus on myself alone will only add to my sense of alienation. We can ask ourselves, “What about this change goal has to do with others?”
How can we stay out of the box and still have a New Year full of happiness? Here are a few suggestions:
Don’t focus on behavioral change goals; focus instead on your senses.
- Each day, ask what it is that you are feeling to do, and do it. I’ve asked coaching clients to keep a log of their senses for a day, and the impact is astounding.
- Pick a relationship instead of a resolution. What if, for the entire year, you focused on improving one friendship, one family or work relationship?
- Get others involved. Need to lose weight? Who else does?
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