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Why New Year’s Resolutions Tend to Fail—And How to Make Them Succeed

At this time of  year  many of us make New Year’s resolutions that over time wither and fade as we try vainly to transform some aspect of our lives. What begins with a hopeful optimism descends in yet another unmet aspiration.

It’s always a curiosity to me how we seek change in the same way that produces the same failure. I imagine that if we conducted a survey six months after the New Year and asked people about the success of their resolutions, we’d find an abysmal rate of failure. Our struggle with change is resoundingly difficult and scant attention is devoted toward understanding why that’s so.

Change begins as a thought, underscored by a wish or even stronger, a desire. This may set in motion an even stronger feeling, an intention. Most people find themselves somewhere within this continuum. Clearly, where you fall within that range is important toward the eventual outcome, but nevertheless insufficient for an assurance of reaching your goal.

What typically prevents the success is the necessary commitment–the vaulting into action–that supports the transition. A number of years ago, on the occasion of my voicing a resolution —to get into shape and work out regularly—a dear friend asked me when I’d actually be doing that. I said, ” at least three times a week.” He responded with a ringing clarity, ” If it’s not in your calendar, day and time, you’re not committing to it.” He was quite right. The intention wasn’t enough. It was lacking willfulness. I came to appreciate that intention must be coupled with will. To change we must engage a willful intention.

It’s not uncommon to initiate the change, but over time we tend to retreat back into the old familiar zone and loosen our grip on the new progress. Sustaining change is often more difficult than initiating it. This is because we haven’t fully committed to the progress. We make a bit of change, breathe a sigh of relief and give ourselves a break. And the change evaporates.

Your willful intention, if grounded in conviction, can lead to what I call a defining moment. It’s an instant in which we become so invested in the change we desire, that we commit to a turning point in our lives. We are in fact changed as of that moment. This is a defining moment in which we come to see ourselves differently, act upon it, and become transformed.

The defining moment alters everything. It is the engine that drives the change. The introduction of this new catalyst alters how we think and how we operate. It introduces a new habit into our being and literally alters our bio-chemistry. Neuroscience is now clearly confirming that our thoughts do indeed alter our brain chemistry. Sustaining the new thinking and embracing it with conviction becomes achievable with a deeply rooted commitment. Anything short leaves us falling short.

Old habits die hard because old thought defends its territory. Thought and behavior are inextricably connected. This habitual pattern literally creates a groove of thought, feeling and behavior. And it here that we get stuck. In order to disrupt that habitual pattern, we must intervene with a significant force, the defining moment in which we embrace the change and nothing stands in the way. This requires embracing the disquiet of new behavior. We need to take the discomfort and make it our ally as we align with the new shift. A resolution isn’t enough; a turning point into new terrain is required accompanied by the energy to sustain it.

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Our Quest for Significance

 What would it feel like to live your life with a deep sense of meaning and purpose?  Many of us long for this, but sadly few of us achieve it. Some of us never even consider this question. With few exceptions, most people are diminished due to feeling insignificant. The days turn into years in the blink of eye as we play out our scripted role in a robotic way. But who is writing that script?

We are scripting life life, although not knowingly. We become wed to our responsibilities— to our routines— and to the maddening predictability of life as we come to believe that there are few alternatives. So, we metaphorically shrug and surrender to not living the life we might have hoped for. The malaise that ensues contributes to our epidemic of depression and a host of other disorders.

We struggle in our quest for significance for a number of reasons:

1We weren’t schooled or raised, for the most part, to consider the question of what kind of life we’d like to live. We become focused on grades, colleges, jobs, marriage and children. These are all dearly important matters, but we omit the most vital consideration. The question we should be asking is: How would I like to experience my life? This inquiry prompts us to become the author of our life script, rather than just a character living out the already written plot.

2) We never learned how to overcome fear. The powerful cultural message that mandates us to avoid making mistakes, deprives us from living a fuller, richer life. The corralling of our beliefs into accepting that we shouldn’t take risks or step out of line, imprisons us into a numbing conformity. Living this way causes us to feel insignificant.

3We lose the capacity to be truly alive, conscious in the moment and making choices that reflect our deeper, intuitive wisdom. To feel significant requires a sense of being truly present in the moment enabling you to make choices that truly serve your higher purpose.

So how do we overcome these limitations?

 We need to live from a new game plan. To feel significant implies that you matter and that your empowered choices can better your life and those around you. The starting place for this shift is to free yourself from the grip of certainty and predictability. When our thoughts become wed to needing to know the future in advance, we become cogs in the machinery of our life. Significance require aliveness, as we become alert to our power to choose differently.  Being stuck in the groove of predictability is life defeating.

The new sciences are informing us that reality isn’t deterministic or certain, but awash with uncertainty. Rather than recoil from the notion of uncertainty, we should paradoxically welcome it. Think of it this way: uncertainty=possibilities. When you embrace the uncertain, you can ride the waves of your change process. This also enables us to release fear. Typically, fear is the consequence of needing to know the future in advance, which induces anxiety. Welcoming the unknown allows fear to dissipate.

This new perspective frees you to find meaning and purpose in your life as any moment can be full of new opportunities. Rather than seeing yourself as the victim of circumstances, you must rethink your life. No longer reduced to your past, to your constraints, you enter into the process of your becoming. Moving from an inert condition of being to a flowing process of becoming ushers in significance as every moment becomes alive with choices, free from fear. Living your life with significance is a great gift to yourself and all those you touch, as you develop a greater purpose in living.

 

Please check out my TEDx talk: Overcoming Anxiety 

Upcoming Online Workshops

 

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Rethinking Anxiety

rethinking anxietyWhen a dysfunction such as anxiety – or depression, for that matter – becomes so commonplace, we must turn to our culture, which is our aggregate way of living, and examine how and why it’s producing such distress. Those suffering from anxiety are often simply mirroring an overwrought, anxiety-laden way of living. Turning the victim into the problem makes no sense at all. Such a preponderance of people suffering in this way must be a reflection of the effects of enduring an incongruous, if not insane, way of living, fostered by our prevailing worldview. In effect, the way that we are living produces this tragic result.

It is essential to address the underlying causes and not simply suppress the symptoms. The difficulty is that in our quick fix mentality, we believe that if we can quiet the symptoms, all is well. This may benefit the pharmaceutical-psychiatry industry, but not those so afflicted. We must come to see anxiety not as the enemy but as an expression of our struggle in adapting to a way of living that actually imperils us. From this vantage, anxiety is paradoxically sensible as we are reacting to conditions that are toxic. The anxiety can be seem similarly to a fever, which is simply a call to attention that all is not well. So the irony is that by medicating our symptoms away, we ensure continued suffering, for the struggle is never resolved toward a breakthrough; it is merely placated.

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Freeing Yourself from the Grip of Low Self-Esteem

self-esteem-wordleTo further our exploration of developing authentic self-esteem, I’m pleased to announce the launch of the Self-Esteem Workshop, a live, interactive videoconference, beginning Tuesday, August 13th.

In my previous articles in this series on self-esteem, we’ve considered how low self-worth surfaces as an array of psychological, emotional, and relationship challenges, and then we looked at how we misunderstand what we actually mean by self-esteem, seeking it in futile ways. We’ll now turn our attention to how we can free ourselves from the debilitating grip of self-denigrating beliefs and thoughts that script those lives tragically limited by low self-esteem.

I often assist my therapy clients in surfacing and articulating their core beliefs about themselves. Subtle or overt messages or treatment, typically in childhood, set up and mold our sense of self. Those who struggle with their self-worth have invariably secured negative imprints of themselves. These themes may play out in one’s head as “I’m not lovable,” or  “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m not smart enough,” or simply ”I’m a loser.” Once we internalize these messages, we integrate these beliefs deeply in our psyche. The beliefs become self-fulfilling. Our potential as human beings collapses and narrows as our limiting beliefs of self become our truth. And we act out our lives correspondingly. Read more

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I’ll Be Happy When…

What is the source of happiness? We tend to assume that happiness will come from a future event. It typically depends upon something else happening. The script often reads like this:

I’ll be happy when… I fall in love.

I’ll be happy when… I get married.

I’ll be happy when… we can buy our dream house.

I’ll be happy when… we can furnish the house.

Still, the anticipated happiness is elusive so we tie it to more future events.

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What Informs Your Belief?

While I was in the midst of delivering a somewhat provocative talk on the subject of change, a gentleman in the audience indicated that he had a question. As he began to speak, it was evident from both his tone and his question that he was challenging the material that I was sharing. Simply stated, his core belief was that people don’t change, and he suggested that I was being an idealist. Little could he have imagined that I welcome the charge of idealism, for this is what inspires us to higher levels – and so I caught him by surprise when I thanked him for the compliment.

Nevertheless, his tone remained quite charged as he continued to assert his position. My presentation was evidently offending his beliefs. I noticed my reaction arising and felt a surging desire to prove him wrong and reveal the flaw in his thinking. Thankfully, I didn’t attach to my reaction. I witnessed the emotion and came into a space that permitted a more authentic response. In the space of a few nanoseconds I quieted myself and felt a question arising from within. It emerged from a deeper place and it took form in the words, “May I ask what informs your belief?”

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Can Your Feelings Be Wrong?

This question comes up so often in my therapy sessions. The greatest source of invalidation comes from denying our feelings — whether we do it ourselves or others do it to us. People really struggle with the question of whether their feelings or right or wrong. Wrong question! Feelings are neither — they just are. Imagine saying that you feel hot. Can someone tell you that you’re wrong? That you’re not feeling hot? Of course not. They might argue that it isn’t hot, particularly if you’re sharing a bed together. But indeed if you feel hot, you feel hot.

Now if you’re overdressed  or the thermostat is set too high you might make an adjustment and no longer feel hot. In that case what your feeling changes. Similarly, if you feel angry, unloved or disrespected, some meaningful communication might assist you to reconsider what you’re feeling. Learning not to be reactive also helps in re-framing what we’re feeling. But this doesn’t suggest that you weren’t feeling what you were.
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Why new year’s resolutions tend to fade and how to achieve them

Year after year, so many people make New Year’s resolutions that over time wither and fade into another failed attempt to transform some aspect of their lives. What begins with a hopeful optimism unravels in yet another unmet aspiration.

It’s always a curiosity to me how we come to try to evoke change in the same way that gives us the same failure. I imagine that if we conducted a survey six months after the New Year and asked people about the success of their resolutions, we’d find an abysmal rate of failure. Our struggle with change is resoundingly difficult and scant attention is devoted toward understanding why that’s so.

Read more

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