A small group of us meet monthly for coffee, connection and conversation. Everyone was a buzz at last Friday’s pow-wow, busy sharing their 2014 resolutions. Meaningful and ambitious plans were disclosed: getting a new job, losing weight, traveling to Europe, writing a book, being more patient, spending more time with family, getting organized.
Then it was my turn, and I had nothing to share. Not a single 2014 resolution.
Last September I pulled out my list of resolutions for 2013. And there I was, three-quarters into the year and not a single one of them complete. At that rate I wasn’t going to be amongst the mere 8% of people who fulfill their new year’s resolutions. So I felt like a failure. I wallowed in that feeling for a couple of days. But fortunately a few days of misery is usually enough for me. Then it’s time for research, reflection, and reframing.
In reviewing my list to determine why I’d accomplished so little, the reason jumped right off the page: my resolutions were bad.
Why were they bad? I’d taken a page right from Collins’ and Porras’ Built to Last: two of them were BHAGs. Big, hairy audacious goals. Nothing wrong with BHAGs. It’s just that BHAGs don’t come to pass unless there’s a thoughtful and plan – full plan – to make them so. I’m not big on super-aggressive, super-thorough project plans that nail down every last detail. But I’d omitted the important part about including a few specific and real objectives in my work outline. (Kinda like the cobbler’s kids and their shoes — so thorough for clients, not so for myself.)
My third 2013 resolution was a behavioral change one. Sadly not much progress there either. Why was that so?
Two things spurred my aha! moment on that one. I stumbled upon a quote from Thomas Cranmer, Henry VIII’s Archbishop of Canterbury, “What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies. The mind doesn’t direct the will. The mind is actually captive to what the will wants, and the will itself, in turn, is captive to what the heart wants.”
The second was Robert Kegan’s work on immunity to change and a reference to two types of goals: technical and adaptive. Technical goals are something to be developed, like a skill or knowledge. Adaptive goals require changing something inside ourselves, beliefs, feelings and the like. I love how Kegan describes immunity to change, “Resistance to change does not reflect opposition, nor is it merely a result of inertia. Instead, even as they hold a sincere commitment to change, many people are unwittingly applying productive energy toward a hidden competing commitment. The resulting dynamic equilibrium stalls the effort in what looks like resistance but is in fact a kind of personal immunity to change.”
Armed with my new insights, I tore up the 2013 resolution list and renounced succumbing to the siren song of making new year’s resolutions going forward. If something is important there’s no magical date other than today to begin it.
I’m happily taking big bites out of my technical goal of writing and publishing a book. I’m still dancing and noodling with figuring out my hidden competing commitment but am making significant progress. This being-a-better-person-who-makes-a-sustainable- difference stuff is tough work. But good work full of serendipity, fun, insights, a few tears, the support of good folks, and chocolate now and then.