Popular lore surrounding New Year’s resolutions is that people remain committed to them for about three weeks before giving up. Why do we struggle so much to stick with our goals? I think the answer lies in the way that we approach them. I’d like to discuss two different mindsets that we can adopt in the pursuit of our goals and how they can affect us. I will use various examples but the concepts apply to any sort of goal:
In mindset A, we decide that we will be happy when we achieve a specific result. When I lose 20 lbs, I will be satisfied, and I will be free to enjoy my life.
In mindset B, we set an intention and we focus on the journey rather than the destination, and we allow ourselves to enjoy the journey itself. I’m going to eat healthfully today because it makes me feel more energetic, more balanced, etc.
In mindset A, we tell ourselves that we must do a specific things. I have committed to exercising a certain amount of days per week, and it is now a duty/obligation that I must fulfill.
In mindset B, we tell ourselves that we are choosing to do a specific thing. I get to decide where to focus my time and energy. I’m choosing to move my body because I know that exercise has numerous benefits for my health and my health is important to me.
In mindset A, we engage in behavior because we hope to obtain external rewards from it. When I am more successful in my career, I will get approval and attention from others.
In mindset B, we engage in behavior that aligns with our deeper values. I am going to push myself in my career because the work is meaningful to me, because being able to take care of my family matters to me, etc. We can still enjoy the external rewards, but they are not our driving force.
In mindset A, we choose a specific measuring mark and when we fall short of it, we see ourselves as failures. My goal was to read for an hour every night and tonight I only read for 20 minutes, so I have fallen short.
In mindset B, we only record our progress. We remember that every step in the right direction is a step in the right direction. Yesterday I was able to take three big steps, and today I was only able to take one baby step, but I am still moving forward. Success often takes a zigzag shape. Having an off day does not diminish my progress.
With mindset A, our focus is on the future, which doesn’t exist; with mindset B, it’s on the present, which is where we actually live, and the only time where we have any control over anything. With mindset A, we feel bound by our “shoulds”; with mindset B, we remember that we are the active agents creating our world. We decide what matters to us and we express it through our actions.
With mindset A, we are prone to feeling guilty, even punishing ourselves, when we fall short of perfection (which will inevitably happen). With mindset B, we focus on celebrating our successes, which creates more momentum. My personal and professional experiences have taught me that it’s not impossible to reach goals within an A mindset, but it is likely that you will feel tense, uptight, distracted, and disconnected from the present moment while doing so. People who adopt a B mindset tend to stay excited and motivated, to persist longer, and to be happier and more balanced overall. As always, the choice is yours.
We’ve all had the experience of losing something significant to us, whether it be a loved one to death, a relationship that has run its course, a job that was a part of our identity, the ability to do something we once loved doing due to illness or disability, or any other myriad of things we once held that have slipped through our fingers. Grief is the natural response to loss, the painful process we need to undergo in order to integrate our experiences and fully open ourselves to new ones. After the denial stage of grief, when we accept that we no longer have what we once had, there is often a permeating sadness and a sense of emptiness. Many well-meaning loved ones and friends will encourage people to immediately “refill” that emptiness: “Go date somebody new. Don’t wait to get a new pet. Find a new hobby and throw yourself into it,” etc.
Eventually, we want to refill our lives. But seeking to do so too hastily is risky. The biggest risk is that we will miss out on the incredible growth potential that exists when we are willing to lean into the emptiness and discomfort, to explore it. It is a scary thing to do. We have a tendency to define ourselves by our careers, our relationships, and our activities. When one or more of these dissolves, we can start to question our ideas of who we are. This is actually a good thing. Loss, and the sense of emptiness that accompanies it, is a powerful reminder that we are so much bigger and so much more than anything that is happening outside of us.
When people we care about are suffering, it can be very tempting to advise or distract them, or even to encourage them to feel differently. This may come from a good place, but is generally not helpful. The best thing you can do for someone who is suffering a loss is to be a space where he or she feels free to fully experience and express whatever it is that he or she is feeling. This allowing to be is the basis of true connection. Since our ability to connect with others begins with our ability to connect to ourselves, it is imperative that we learn how to give ourselves this space first.
I take Blue Cross Blue Shield and Blue Care Network. I also see clients for a cash fee.
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