As the sun sets along the annual horizon of 2015, thus marking the end of another year, we come together to rejoice, celebrate, and exhale a sigh of relief that it is finally over. Every single one of us has, at very least paused, to think ahead and look forward to what this 2nd half of a decade has in store for us. Most of us are already guilty of making our declarations known, some rather vociferously, about the impactful changes to our lives that we are planning to make.
Whether your Resolution(s) for 2016 are completely cliché such as: fitness (getting into shape/losing weight), quitting a habit (smoking/drinking/etc.), are within the spectrum of expansive ideals are completely grandiose such as traveling to 3 separate continents when you have never left your hometown, and/or overcoming a fear/phobia, or they happen to resonate around creativity like becoming proficient at a new hobby, we are all hoping to achieve a new level of improvement in our lives. Among us still, is the percentage of us that are somewhat resigned towards ‘Resolutions’ for the future. The goals we plan for revolve solely around the simplicity of not failing. Others may scoff, think of these intentions as dull, lackluster, and maybe lazy, those us who have that kind of determination are those that see the patterns that have emerged. For whatever processes that contributed, irrespective to organic origin or something outside our sphere of control, the sobering fact is remnant that previous year’s resolutions have resulted in failure.
Most, if not all us, have had a similar inclination at some point in our lives; There is always that familar and dismal blankness. We sense the darkness lurking in the shadows and whispering to us within the deep recesses of our minds. No matter its form, the rhetorical nagging question has plagued each of us: Why is it with all these hopes, dreams, and ideals of betterment that initially excite us – why do we crash and burn year, after year? Why do most of us eventually fail? Why is this ending always the same? Well, there is an answer folks, and I am here to explain it, and ithe might be difficult to digest. My forecast is that these 3 things might shock some of you. Others might not like the ever simplicity vastly complex, paradox of human nature. Regardless, my estimation is that a majority of you will have your defense mechanisms come to your aid and offer some form of salvation through deflection, projection, and denial at least once. All of this is acceptable, and please let me be the first say that I completely understand and empathize with how the truth can be painful for us to hear, swallow, and digest. My hope, however, is that for just one of you reading this, the animated light bulb will flicker above your head and shed the light of truth on your journey through life.
Have you ever heard that saying of, “whenever you point the finger of blame at someone, you have three fingers pointing right back at you”? Now, think about the last time you lost your pen. My guess is that it was not too long ago. You remember setting it down just a moment ago. Seriously, it was right there in front of you, and now it is no longer there. WTF – where did it go?
First, you scan the surrounding surface to see if it rolled away. Secondly, you look on the ground to see if it somehow rolled off of where you put it. Next, you look around you to see what people are nearby that would make likely suspects. Maybe then, you ask one or more of them if they took it or saw it last, and so on. Lastly, when all other options have been exhausted, you dig into your pockets to discover that you had the damn pen the entire time.
One of the most basic facets of human behavior is self-preservation. Granted, misplacing something like a pen is scarcely grounds for a life and death scenario where our mortality is at stake, however, the same processes exist. Instinctively and subconsciously, we look to put others at fault to protect our own integrity and preserve our own worthiness. We do not want to believe anything that is contrary to our beliefs about who we are. We have a set expectation that first and foremost, we were right about where we placed the pen.
Expectations that follow are based on learned behaviors that we have on other people – which is why we immediately scope out who is around you and calculate who is suspect. As humans, we are all fallible, even though some us out there think that they are gods and incapable of error. However, no matter where you see yourself on the hierarchy of exisitence, much effort will be exerted to prove that something is not your fault. In fact, whether you are aware of it or not, the work required to disprove your own guilt will always far outweigh admittance of a mistake. Expectations have and will forever lead to disappointment. In the case of the pen, the expectation was that it rolled away or someone took it. We were disappointed to uncover the truth that we fouled up and had it the whole time. The magnitude of the expectation and the level of disappointment are rooted in a foundation of solid facts, are structurally sound, and correlate respectively as load bearing walls, no matter where any situation we encounter falls on the scale of what we feel is important. While expectations alone offer their eventual negative consequences, none is more detrimental to your successes at achievement than unrealistic expectations.
Take a moment and think about your past New Years Resolutions and their faliures. Did you set yourself up with an unachievable goal based on unrealistic expectations? Did your expectations have a timeframe for achievement? What is different about this year’s resolution? What are the illusions of expectation projecting in your mind about how it will end up? A person can not win an Olympic medal for running if they do not yet know how to walk. In this same way, you cannot be a competiting as a body builder in a few months when you have a beer gut and are moderately overweight today. It is impossible – no matter whatever body sculpting machine/fitness club infomercial hosted by Chuck Norris that you saw recently. Save yourself from the disappointment now, not to mention time and money.
2.) Instant Gratification:
One of the most notable lines in the 1986 classic ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ is, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.” This quote has never rang more true than today. With the birthing of such splendiferous inventions in technology such as the internet, cell phones, and the marriage of the two, we have all the information that we could ever hope to have right in our pockets. With all of this information, we want it fast, we want it now, we want it accessible where ever we happen to be, and most importantly we want results. There is a distinct link between satisfaction and the rate of speed that the we achieve results.
There is no doubt that in many ways technology has made our world a smaller place. Conversely, doubt and denial arises when the spotlight shifts to our growing sense of self and our egos that are being steadily inflated skewing our perceptions that we, too, are larger than we really are in an even smaller world. Since news from half way around the world away can be spread immediately, our level of patience has dwindled to microscopic proportions. The human race has been lavishly spoiled with such radical freedom in information access umrestrained from lapses in time, which has enhanced our susceptibility to instant gratification.
In taking this point a step further, there is another movie quote that I find to be both memorable and relevant, coming from 1999’s Academy Award Winning, ‘American Beauty’. Kevin Spacey’s character of Lester Burnham, makes a resolution to get in shape, and goes running with his two male neighbors. He tells them as he is drenched in sweat, “I just want to look better naked.”
Being in a results oriented culture has given rise to a society inflicted with unwarranted self-entitlements. We have become malformed in our ratios of gratefulness and impatience when we do not get the results as quickly as we think it should. Additionally, we get frustrated and discouraged at anything taking longer that we expected. Finally, all motivation is lost to continue, because we do not like negative emotions.
The inherent error that many resolutions have is that we assign a definitive result that we want to achieve. Some examples of this are: I am going to lose 15 pounds, I am going to drop 4 inches from my waist, I am going to stop eating fast food, etc. Compiled onto our initial expectations, we have additionally put ourselves under the contains of when, how, and so on. This same approach goes for resolutions to go to the gym everyday, call mom every Sunday…Every time a detail is added, it decreases thr odds of success. Now, revert back into your history’s of where your past New Year’s Resolutions failed. Adding onto our inital expectations, did you give up too soon based on discouragement and frustration that you did see the results of our hard word fast enough? Did it make you lose your motivation? Are you digressing into a state of blame and denial that there were external forces at play and/or extenuating circumstances beyond your control? Is the implementation of such rationalizations based on admonished ownership rooted in a self-preservation tactic?
So, what is the point? What makes the line from ‘American Beauty’ better or different? The answer is as simple as his statement is generic. He only said the word “better.” That word translates differently for everyone, and someone’s version of better may not be the same as yours. All of that is perfectly alright, because the only thing that matters is your version. Your version is the important one, because you are doing this for yourself. Furthermore, using the word better allows for flexibility of the goal. It is devoid of the bondage that comes with assigning values to details. With more freedom comes more range. With more range, the deadlines to achieve results disappears, and expectations are diminished. With just using one word, “better” the probability of success increases dramatically.
In 1993’s comedy, ‘Grumpy Old Men’, Jack Lemmon pleads with Darryl Hannah as a father to daughter, “At the end of it all, we only have our experiences. Our biggest regret is for risks that we did not take.” Take a moment to imagine your funeral, and hopefully it is many, many years from now. In your eulogy, what will be the legacy that you leave behind? What is it that you want people to remember most about your life? Personally, I have never been to a funeral where people spoke on behalf of the deceased’s collection of stuff, accumlation of crap, endless piles of money or anything material in nature.
Often, you can count on other people to speak of your worth, your accomplishments, your nature, and your personality. They speak of charity, love, and dedication that you possessed. They speak of things of which you had that cannot be measured on a physical scale, yet they their weight is far heavier than anything tangible. Most of all, they speak of things that do not have a price tag, however carry a value that exceeds any means of available monetary compensation.
As people, we seek validation to things that we do. We have a desire and strong need to know that we are making a difference, being noticed, and our efforts are not in done in vain. We assign value to accolades and affirmations that others give us, and there is a proportionate basis of where motivation is reliant on positive reinforcement and the reward of other’s acknowledgement at what we are doing. As the social media movement has infiltrated all of our lives to some extent, we are influenced and persuaded by our need for affirmations more and more. We are increasingly becoming a population of narcissists that feed on how many ‘likes’ and comments amy single picture and post get. Moreover, we manage to factor in the calculation of total ‘likes’ and comments into our self-image.
Take a final look at your failed attempts of annual betterment formed as New Year’s Resolutions. What was the intention behind making such a change in your life. Was to lose weight to attract a person that you wanted a relationship with? Was it to make your doctor stop nagging you about cholesterol and crap? Regardless of what the resolution was, were you actually going through with it based on seeking approval from someone else, instead of doing it for yourself? No wonder those attempts failed. Here is where I am now tying everything together. The ingredients of expectation, instant gratification, and affirmation can easily, each stand alone as the underlying reason why New Year’s Resolutions fail. When adding any combination or all 3, you have just concocted a recipe for disaster. How can someone overcome any obstacle when, they themselves are the obstacle? How can you possibly succeed at anything when you sabatoge the course you are taking? The only thing that you truly did achieve is defeating your chances your chances at winning the race.
As the inevitable dawning of 2016 is upon us, I urge you to take a deep look at your motives for wanting to make a change, what the end result you want to achieve, and generically form your resolutions to mute any unnecessary expectations. I applaud you for taking the time to read this and gain deeper insight into why we do the things we do. It is never easy to focus on the skeletons that we keep knowingly and/or unknowningly within our closets. It is never comfortable to comfront the areas of our lives that could use improvment. You may very well already be on your way to have an inspiring new year!
At the end of 2012, David Wong of Cracked.com wrote a very impatful article that has since received over 20 million views. Due to blunt truths outlined in his article, 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person has since been edited and republished every year since.
My wish for you in 2016, is that your next year is better than last!