New Year’s resolutions so often fail because they are statements about altering behaviors in order to accomplish something. “I resolve to stop overeating and to lose twenty pounds,” or “I resolve to be more attentive to my spouse,” or “I resolve to be a better parent,” are admirable goals, but they are commonly forgotten by February.
That’s because flatly resolving to achieve something ignores one central fact: You are the person who has been running your life while you gained weight or disregarded your spouse or fell short as a father or mother. And since you’re still the one in control, it’s unlikely you will be able to chart a better course and arrive at your intended destination without examining your self—the inner set of emotions and beliefs that truly, elementally define your self-concept and the way you experience and understand the world around you.
To use a metaphor, think of yourself as the captain of a ship. You’ve shied away from transatlantic journeys in the past, even when invited to undertake them, even when excited by the notion, and are now intent on finally taking a ship across the ocean. That’s all well and good. But until you understand why you have avoided that goal, you are still ill-equipped to achieve it.
In order to defeat whatever dynamic is holding you back, you need to uncover it. It could be as simple as remembering that someone you loved as a child always warned you, “Don’t overreach. Be happy with what you have.” It could as complex as remembering that your mother was finally going to return to law school after you went off to middle school, but that she died suddenly just before beginning that grand journey. When living life to its fullest is connected to death in one’s mind, crossing any metaphorical ocean can feel too perilous, deep down inside.
We are, all of us, stories. And connecting the dots between the parts of your story you would like to change and negative lessons stored away from the past is the only way to write really brilliant chapters going forward.
See, the real hurdles between you and anything you want isn’t just “stick-to-it-ness” or determination. It’s also about finding out the truth about why you have strived in the past and fallen short.
There are people who can’t lose weight because they don’t think they’re worthy of being fit or attractive.
There are people who can’t start a business because the family lore was about people who had tried to do it and failed.
There are people who can’t show enough love to their children because they have never admitted they weren’t loved well-enough themselves and want to avoid reproducing the past.
A single New Year’s resolution may be the silver bullet that changes your life forever: Resolve to find your personal truth.
Resolve to start admitting what you really feel about people in your life—not just parroting some greeting card version of your relationships.
Resolve to start admitting what you really feel about yourself—even the negative things—so that you can identify the areas of strength you can build on, and others you genuinely need to change.
Resolve to start saying more about what you really believe—spiritually and politically and ethically and morally—because to the extent that you declare your truth, you start living with honesty and conviction. And an honest person with conviction, who admits that being 30 pounds overweight is a sign of complacency, perhaps born of being taught inaction all her life, is a person who truly is ready to get fit. And once she decides to change her life in accordance with the truth, her physical fitness will become contagious to every aspect of her being.
This journey toward one’s own truth won’t be easy, but it is the most important journey you can take in your life. Because being absent from your own existence short circuits all good intentions. You can’t resolve to do anything, and mean it, if you are not in possession of your self.
How do you start? Psychotherapy is a gold standard way. Reading excellent books like Dr. George Weinberg’s "Self Creation is another" (order a used copy; it’s out of print). I’ll put in a plug for my own book, written with Glenn Beck, called "The 7: Seven Wonders that Will Change Your Life." Meditation can be useful. A spiritual retreat can also set the stage for forward momentum.
Take just one step in the direction of your personal truth and you may get hooked on the whole journey. It’s the silver bullet you have been looking for that can slay the dragons of indecision and self-defeatism you have been fighting all your life.
Good luck and Godspeed in 2012.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.