Self-UNDERSTANDING vs. Self-Control

As we get closer to the beginning of the New Year (2021), the discussions and advice about New Year’s resolutions are plentiful. In spite of best intentions and early excitement, most resolutions are immune to lasting change. In order to overcome this gap, it is helpful to understand why resolutions, so predictably, escape our grasp. The core of this issue is an over emphasis on self-control and an under emphasis on self-understanding. Perhaps, some self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-reflection skills are just what the doctor ordered…

Scott H. Young, who I wrote about recently, has a great blog that brought this distinction between a self-control challenge and a self-understanding challenge to my attention. This is also similar to the distinction between a technical challenge and an adaptive challenge.

Technical challenges have more to do with the problem in and of itself. Whereas, adaptive challenges have more to do with the PERSON having the problem.

When all your effort and energy is spent on upholding your resolution with self-control, you are relying on the finite reserves of your willpower to resist the behaviors that act in opposition to your resolution.

On the contrary, if you reframe your challenge as a self-understanding problem, you allow yourself the opportunity to go deeper in uncovering what is contributing to your change prevention system.

“Any mindset or way of constructing reality will inevitably contain some blind spots. An adaptive challenge is a challenge because of our blind spots. And our adaptation will involve some recognition of and correction of our blindness.”

Robert Keegan, Lisa Lahey, Immunity to Change.

Self-Reflection is a path to shining a light on your blind spots, which will give you a greater understanding of the types of counter commitments and big assumptions that are working against your self-control to turn your resolutions into permanent habits.

Call to Action:

  1. Reflect on what fears you have about behaving in alignment with your resolution. For example, imagine that your resolution is to regularly eat healthier. Aside from exercising the self-control to resist eating unhealthy, what worries you about the prospect of having to eat healthy? Is it that you won’t enjoy the food? Is it that you will feel left out when eating out with friends who aren’t eating healthy? Is it that eating healthy will be too expensive? Because of these fears, you have counter commitments that go against your resolution of regularly eating healthier.
  2. Turn your fears into counter commitments. Your counter commitments would be the following: You are committed to eat food that only tastes good. You are committed to eating in ways that allows you to easily dine out with friends. You are committed to eating in ways that are inexpensive. Behind each of these counter commitments are big assumptions that drive the counter commitments to work against you.
  3. Identify the big assumptions. If you are committed to eating food that only tastes good, then you are ASSUMING that healthy food is void of enjoyment. If you are committed to eating in ways that allows you to easily dine out with friends, then you are ASSUMING that your friends wouldn’t be supportive nor understand your desire to eat healthier, and, perhaps, that you don’t have friends that would also be interested in committing to regularly eating healthier. If you are committed to eating in ways that are inexpensive, then you are ASSUMING that healthy food is always expensive.
  4. Test your big assumptions. Look for evidence that challenges your big assumptions.

My hope is that this post shows you how there is a lot more to you than just your ability to resist temptation. This is good news and an incredible opportunity to use resolutions as a fantastic way to learn more about yourself and your process to intentionally and sustainably grow in order to deliberately make change a reality.

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