As we get closer to the beginning of a New Year, 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. At the core of this issue is an over emphasis on self-control and an under emphasis on self-understanding. Said differently, people approach change more so as “human doings” and less so as “human beings.” 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 specificity of the problem you are trying to solve or the change you are trying to create. They are easier to diagnose and the solution is already known. Technical challenges usually address the question “what is going on?” or “what should I do?”

Whereas, adaptive challenges have more to do with how you, and your specific psychology, address the problem or the change you want to make. They require a much more thorough investigation and there isn’t an easily identifiable or known solution because of individual human variability. Adaptive challenges usually address the question of “why is this happening?” or “how am I, specifically, going to approach this?”

If you have struggled many times making a certain change in your life, then you know you are dealing with much more than just a technical challenge. Because of this, you will need more than just self-control to create lasting change. 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-awareness and self-reflection are paths to shining a light on your blind spots, which will give you a greater understanding of what behaviors, beliefs, and assumptions are undermining your ambition and efforts to turn your resolutions into new ways of doing and being.

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 consistently eat healthier foods. Aside from exercising the self-control to resist eating unhealthy foods, what worries you about the prospect of having to eat healthier foods?
    • Is it that you won’t enjoy the food?
    • Is it that you will feel left out when going to dinner with friends who aren’t eating healthy foods?
    • Is it that eating healthier will be too expensive?
    • Because of these fears, you have counter commitments that go against your resolution to consistently eat healthier foods.
  2. Turn your fears into counter commitments: Your counter commitments would be the following:
    • You are committed to eating food that only tastes good.
    • You are committed to eating in ways in which you don’t feel judged by your 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, perhaps, you are assuming that healthy food is void of enjoyment.
    • If you are committed to eating in ways in which you don’t feel judged by your friends, then, perhaps, you are assuming that your friends won’t be supportive nor understand your desire to eat healthier foods.
    • If you are committed to eating in ways in which you don’t feel judged by your friends, then, perhaps, you are assuming that your friends are not also interested in committing to consistently eating healthier foods.
    • If you are committed to eating in ways that are inexpensive, then, perhaps, you are assuming that healthy food is always expensive.
  4. Test your big assumptions: Look for evidence that challenges your big assumptions.
    • Search for or think of healthy food that does, indeed, taste good.
    • Talk to your friends about your healthy eating aspirations and see what their response is.
    • Order differently than your friends and observe how they behave.
    • Search for or think of healthy food options that are inexpensive.

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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