Comment: Fresh starts and new beginnings

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It’s the time of year for fresh starts and new beginnings. Many of us make New Year’s resolutions to change aspects of our lives that aren’t working, or we want to improve.

It’s great to want to change but the four problems with resolutions are they:

  1. Focus on what we don’t want, causing anxiety by activating the ‘worry chemicals’ in our bodies.
  2. Rely on will power and motivation to achieve.
  3. Have poorly specified criteria for success.
  4. Have an end point with only two possible outcomes: either succeed or fail.

If I try even a straightforward resolution like getting fit, it will likely fail because:

  • I’m trying to fix something wrong with me I don’t want.
  • I currently have no fitness routine built into my life, so adopting one now without altering my environment, habits and mindset won’t work.
  • Success relies on will power.
  • I haven’t specified what I mean by fit, so I won’t know if I succeed.
  • Even if I do specify success criteria, the outcome is binary, with failure most likely.
  • Learning and growth are not built into the process.
  • I’ll eventually peter out and feel like a failure.

This all belongs to what I call the world of the Fixed Mindset: win/lose, succeed/fail, I either have what it takes, or I don’t. Can you see how that ramps up anxiety?

Much better to focus on what we do want, the things that are most important to us, which I call living our values. It’s not an outcome or a goal, but rather bringing your values to life in your actions and speaking. It’s like jumping into a river that’s always flowing, and you’ve decided to swim along with it for a while.

This may sound like mental gymnastics but it’s actually a completely different mindset involving growth and learning. You’re bringing your values to life by trying out different things, experimenting to discover what works. There’s no winning or losing, only being in the game. And neurochemically it’s completely different because it’s about working towards positive aspiration that will always pull you forward. Values are by definition open ended concepts.

For example, maybe you value your health and well-being. You take stock and realise you have not been living consistently with that value for a while. You decide to take some actions and adopt regular practices to bring that value to life. Perhaps you try walking 5km three times a week, and your criteria for success is feeling full of energy all day. You play with it, experiment, and eventually try ramping it up to running 5km once a week, then twice then three times and see how that goes. Yes, it will take some will power but instead of force it’s about living true to your values!

What are your values? In what areas is your life not congruent with your values? What could you say and do to bring them to life?

That’s a worthwhile life-long project.

Main photo credit: Brad Neathery via Unsplash

Miles Protter

Miles has worked with thousands of people as a mentor and coach and now runs The Values Partnership, a professional mentoring practice, together with his wife Deborah. He’s also founded Men’s Business, a not for profit, dedicated to men connecting with each other, listening and learning together how to navigate life well.
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