“The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates
I struggled to pick a New Year’s resolution.
This wasn’t for lack of motivation, but rather lack of focus. I have SO MANY things that I wish to change, if this isn’t obvious to you with the overall theme of my blog.
Here’s a list of possible New Year’s resolutions I tossed around:
Limit alcohol consumption.
Read and write a specific amount each day.
Plan and stick to a family budget.
Create and obtain writing stretch goals.
Organize family photos.
Finally get around to everything on my “I’ll-get-to-it-one-day” list (e.g. finish baby books, clean out the garage, etc.)
I spoke to my saint of a best friend, and she shared that her New Year’s resolution is to complete a monthly act of service with her kids. I love this so much I decided to add it to my list.
Thinking about resolutions made me wonder what really motivates a person to change.
One survey estimates that only eight percent of the population follows through on resolutions, so why do so many of us fail? What gets in the way of our ability to make lasting positive changes, and how can we help ourselves get in the eight percent?
Here’s what I discovered after researching the topic:
Our Resolutions are Often the Problem
Many of us (I obviously fall into this category) make too many goals and end up overwhelmed instead of focusing on one goal at a time. It also helps to make the goal specific, measurable, and obtainable. Instead of my idea to cook/eat healthier, I could revise my resolution to the more measurable goal of cooking two healthy dinners per week. If I need to, I can always increase this goal throughout the year, but the key is not setting the bar too high right away. Otherwise, I risk burn out.
Changing Our Behavior Literally Requires Rewiring Our Brains
As detailed here, science has proven that thinking patterns create neural pathways and memories in the brain that make us default to habitual behavior when we’re faced with a decision. In order to change our behavior, we can’t just decide we are going to stop a habit. This, in fact, strengthens our resistance to change. We actually have to create new thoughts that create new neural pathways.
For example, if I’m on a diet and I see a piece of chocolate cake, I can’t just say to myself, “You can’t eat that chocolate cake.” I have to tell myself, “You’ll have more energy this afternoon if you eat a handful of almonds,” until this thought pattern becomes my new habit.
In other words, if we’re going to change, mindset matters. It’s not in our heads (or it is in our heads, depending on how you look at it) that change is difficult.
Is Our Motivation to Change Coming from the Right Place?
In “Drive” by Daniel H. Pink, he describes the three types of motivation that human beings experience. The first is our biological drive for hunger, thirst, and sex. The second is our response towards external rewards and punishments in our environment, and the third type of motivation we experience is intrinsic. Behavioral scientists are starting to better understand the importance of this third drive.
Pink breaks down intrinsic motivation into the following three elements: “(1) Autonomy-the desire to direct our own lives; (2) Mastery-the urge to get better and better at something that matters; and (3) Purpose-the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.” (Pink, 2009, p. 204)
It’s important to determine if our resolution’s motivation is intrinsic or extrinsic because Pink argues that intrinsic motivation leads to greater success in the long run. He provides the example of a person trying to lose weight for an event, such as a reunion, versus someone trying to lose weight to stay healthy for their family. The person that loses weight for the event might reach their goal, but they will likely gain the weight back after the reunion. The person with intrinsic motivation to lose weight may make slower progress at first, but have better results in the long term.
My guess is that many resolutions fail because they are attached to external motivating factors. We’re much more capable of creating real change in our lives when we shape goals that provide us with a sense of purpose that goes beyond ourselves.
This blog is me squinting through the magnifying glass, trying to locate the invisible line that divides self-improvement and self-acceptance.
It’s the Serenity Prayer in blog version: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
The ever-elusive wisdom part is tricky.
Cheers to all of us finding purpose and wisdom in 2018.