It happens every January, like clockwork: Millions of us set resolutions to change our lives for the healthier and happier. And then . . . well, you know.
Having been in the health and fitness business for nearly three decades now, I’ve had far too many opportunities to witness just how rarely those resolutions work out, even for the most motivated among us.
Part of the problem is that in setting our change-oriented goals, most of us have a natural tendency to focus on the negative. We look at what we don’t like about our bodies or our lives, and we put our attention there.
There’s real value, of course, in periodically assessing the gaps between where we are and where we want to be, but there’s also a real danger, particularly if we allow ourselves to get overwhelmed by the distance we feel we need to cover.
So I want to share an alternate approach, one informed by my days as a young engineering student. In school, we learned that the outcome of any endeavor is based on two things: 1) the input of data and materials; and 2) the programming and condition of the device into which those inputs are fed.
In an engineering scenario, the “input” might be information, fuel, or raw materials. The “device” might be a structure, a system, or a machine.
As you might expect, you can get very different results and effects by varying the quality, type, volume, and introduction rate of a given set of inputs into a given device.
Similarly, you can get very different results from introducing the exact same inputs into two systems that have been designed or set up to function in different ways, or that are in different states of readiness and repair.
The way I see it, resolutions and goal setting (and all the new actions they entail) are inputs. Your current mindset and life design are the devices into which those inputs are fed.
I’d argue that the mindset you are in when you set your goals or resolutions can have a huge impact on the types of goals you set as well as on the relative success of their outcome.
At core, most goals are about one of two things: We are either moving away from pain, or going toward pleasure.
When we approach our goals from a place of pain or frustration, we adopt a “fix it” mentality. There’s an inherent sense of desperation, fear, and urgency to making change happen now, so we throw ourselves into aggressive new behaviors.
Too often, those behaviors aren’t sustainable or realistic. They aren’t connected to an inspiring sense of why, just to an oppressive sense of should. We can’t do them very long, or very well (particularly at first), so they don’t have the desired effect.
Instead, they become a new source of pain, and since pain was what we were trying to avoid in the first place, there seems little point in continuing.
Game over. We abandon our inputs and our device remains unchanged.
But what if, instead of approaching your goals from a pain-oriented place, you started from a more positive, pleasure-focused state of mind? What if you approached your resolutions from a place of appreciation for how good things are right now, rather than a place of frustration about whatever you see as wrong or “not good enough”?
From what I’ve seen, two important things tend to happen:
1) You start supplying very different inputs. Rather than taking on heavy goals focused at eradicating your weaknesses or correcting your problems, you dedicate your energy to growing and celebrating the aspects of your life that you value and enjoy most.
2) The condition of your device changes dramatically. Because you are in a positive, peaceful state of mind, your brain is more creative and receptive. It drops its defenses against change and is more willing to entertain new possibilities. It produces better, more motivating ideas about how to accomplish your goals.
So if you’re open to doing your resolutions differently this year, here’s what I’d suggest: Start by reflecting on the parts of your life that are going well, and the blessings that bring you the most joy. Then set to work on creating meaningful, “make it even better” goals you will actually enjoy working toward.
Take the time to dig into what lights you up now so you can create a life that sparkles even more in the year ahead.