“New Year’s Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”
— Mark Twain
The new year is a time to think about what you want to achieve and to set new goals accordingly. Proceed carefully, because unless you’re in the minority of people who succeed, your new year’s vision will soon cloud over and nothing will change.
A 2018 YouGov poll found that one in 5 Americans stuck to their resolutions. Other research suggests the same stats, 80% abandon their resolutions in the first quarter. More radical resolutions fail faster. The reason cited is lost motivation. The remedy: Find tools and tactics to keep you motivated — a productivity app, accountability buddy, or motivational coach.
If you suspect that motivation is your issue, it could be wise to try these remedies. Personally, I’m not for externally imposed motivation. It takes me back to catholic girls’ college and cantankerous nuns killing all manner of fun.
But it’s not only my personal experience (trauma) that makes me reject external motivational. When it comes to falling short of a goal, I believe something more fundamental sends our desires sideways or to the back-burner, or into oblivion.
“As there is no worldly gain without some loss, so there is no worldly loss without some gain.”
– Francis Quarles
We, humans, are acquisitive creatures. The archaic drive of the hunter and gatherer also powers modern lives. But unlike our lean-living, itinerant ancestors, we inhabit a world of oversupply and stagnation. We tend to sit, dig in, and hold onto things long past their use-by date.
Just as planet earth suffers from human excess, we individually bear this burden. While the bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up and zen-living gurus showed us — room by room, object by object — how to live with less, our less-visible hoardings still collect dust year after year.
Projects, skills, jobs, relationships, behaviors, and habits would also benefit from the life-changing habit because if we’re at full capacity with things set in motion in the previous years, piling on more won’t upgrade our quality of life or bring success — only the opposite.
Survey Your Life
“When things reach the extreme, they alternate to the opposite.”
― Alfred Huang, The Complete I Ching: The Definitive Translation
To foresee the future, our ancestors read the lay of the land. They understood the ebb and flow of the seasons and elemental forces, predicted feasts and famines, and planned accordingly.
Although land reading skills have become extinct, you can still call up this skill, which is buried in your intuition, to see the lay of your own life. Through quiet reflection, you can survey the terrain and sense where there is movement, energy, flow, and excess, and where stagnation and deprivation have set in.
As you practice seeing your life (and cultivate your ability to project your vision into the future), you’ll be able to make the necessary structural changes that increase flow and reduce stagnation. Trying to motivate yourself when the structure of your life is wonky will only frustrate and disappoint.
Create The Right Structure
“Once a structure exists, energy moves through that structure by the path of least resistance. In other words, energy moves where it is easiest for it to go.”
— Robert Fritz
Creating a good structure for our lives means removing imbalances. To do so, we need to see the relationship between the various areas of our lives. Ancient Eastern minds of the Tao understood that no part of you, or your life, is separate from any other part. Your head can make your body sick, and vice-versa, and how you feel about your work can affect your relationship — for better or worse. Again you can sit quietly and reflect on these relationships.
Years ago, I wanted to upgrade my spiritual practice. It meant dedicating more time, focus, and energy to my goal. In the first months, I struggled to keep up without feeling utterly exhausted. Then one day, I realized that whenever I drank a glass of wine (which I really enjoyed), I felt a little dull during my spiritual practice.
Because I didn’t drink much, the feeling of dullness was subtle, and yet I sensed that it was also cumulative and prevented me from making the progress I desired. Something had to give for me to reach my spiritual goals; the regular glass of wine with dinner. When I stopped drinking alcohol, the struggle to focus diminished, and the sense of clarity was a profoundly satisfying reward.
Balance, Then Grow
“Wisdom is your perspective on life, your sense of balance, your understanding of how the various parts and principles apply and relate to each other.”
— Steven R. Covey
Making New Year’s resolutions and setting goals at any time requires you to face the structure of your life, which includes your time, energy, skills, knowledge, and capacities. You can’t have it all. All (excess) will create stagnation. From a sound structure comes to balance, and from balance comes lasting growth.
You may need to clear out some emotional baggage (that takes up too much mental energy) to achieve your academic aims. You may need to cull a dreary habit that has created stagnation in your relationship. Perhaps an outworn attitude or bias (e.g., I’ll do it all myself) needs to be examined if you are to find community and belonging — if that’s what you want now.
Don’t shoot for the moon, just yet. Stay on the land, survey the terrain of your life. Identify what has to give to make way for the new.