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January 1st, 2019
Today is the entirely overrated first day of the year when we all try to initiate all sorts of new positive behaviors and attempt to beat back the old bad habits that are all too easy to fall back into.
What exactly are these resolutions?
Re-solution. As in, solve again, or try a new solution. So to resolve to do something, to have a resolution is to attempt to solve a problem.
This is the core of the word but the often missed point. Each year we start the same good habits with gusto and motivation and naively think that this year the new difficult behavior will stick for sure! Our sense of drive and determination is all too quiet when our new, fragile behavior has fallen by the wayside.
This boils down to the simple fact that we are not trying a new and different solution to our age-old problems, we are actually just repeating the old solution that we’ve had in our head for a year or two, or perhaps even decades.
Why does it take us so long to clue into the fact that much of our behavior is fruitlessly repeated without change in the result? We like to cite the ill-conceived idea that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result and yet everyone is guilty of this sort of contradiction. Especially in the first weeks and months of the year when the excitement of the arbitrary change of year has worn off.
This problem might have to do with the convincing nature of emotions. We go through the same self-defeating motions because the pattern of emotion that leads us from one action to the next is the same each time. It’s quite fitting that the two words motion and emotion differ by one letter.
Because of this behavioral function, New Year’s resolutions are more like New Year’s Repetitions.
We check our mirrors while driving before changing direction, and so too we should look back and honestly think about how any resolutions a year ago failed. Why did they fail? And what can be done differently this time to actually solve the problems we resolve to fix? What about the manner of our thinking can change in order to find this difference in strategy?
When it comes right down to it, the attempt to change one’s self and one’s behavior is a quest and question of emotional manipulation. We are often chasing goals because of how we imagine we might feel after the goal is achieved, but then we get sidetracked in our progress because the emotions aroused by the progress or lack thereof are not in line with what we expect or what we hoped for. Focusing on the pattern and flux of different emotions during the process of behavioral change or building to some achievement or goal is probably far more effective than continually trying to remind one’s self of the imagined emotion that waits at the end of the rainbow’s goal. We must also take into account the very real possibility that we could be wrong about how we’ll feel once we’ve achieved what we’re looking for. Like an ambitious student who becomes a doctor but forgets to factor in the small problem that they despise being around sick people. The achievement can be a doorway to misery, even if it comes along with the status and pomp.
We are best to focus on editing our process. Finding the Minimum Viable Success here by chipping the goal into small composite pieces is particularly key here. By biting off small enough chunks of the problem that we can solve and slowly build upon, we can build real achievements.
Knowing how to manipulate one’s own emotional story in this way is key because it is a skill that can then be utilized for any goal or problem that comes up in life.
The old proverb ‘know thyself’ has a real and practical meaning here. Being mindful of our emotional state, it’s fluctuations, it’s trips and forks and what cracks exist where we can wiggle in the thin edge of the wedge and hack our way to a new state is the underlying key to changing ourselves, building progress towards achievements and ultimately reordering our operating system to be optimized for a fulfilling process as opposed to chasing some imaginary state.
None of this applies to just one specific day but is relevant during every day we find ourselves still with the gift of being alive. Each day is not only an opportunity to work towards a goal, but to learn about our own self a little more deeply and perhaps see with a fuller context just how we might steer the ship in a different direction, for even a change of a single degree leads to radically different places.