“Happiness, like unhappiness, is a proactive choice”
So, we are about six weeks in to the start of the year. How are you doing with your New Year’s Resolutions? If you are like so many others, you may have already given up or forgotten about your goal—maybe you let it slide for a while, but now you are ready to recommit and try again.
So why is that? Why are we so excited to make goals but unable to follow through with the promises we make to ourselves? The answer is motivation.
Think about this example. You want to lose weight and eat healthier, so you are going on a diet. At a restaurant and the person you are with orders cheesecake. You tell yourself, “I can’t eat that,” and then your brain immediately goes into rebellion mode where you say to yourself, “I can eat that. In fact, I will have three slices!”
When you feel like you have to, must, or should do something you will get tired and rebel against the task. The task feels controlling and restrictive, so you want to avoid it. Just like in the above example, when your brain is in rebellion mode, you forget the real reason you wanted to go on a diet in the first place because you are being motivated by obligation. Inevitably though, avoiding the task will trigger a guilt response and you will try to recommit to the task again. This cycle can continue for days, weeks, months, or even years!
How do you break this cycle and follow through with promises to yourself? The answer is choice. Choice is the one motivator that is sustainable. Choice gives you energy (because you want to, get to, or choose to do something)! Instead of rebelling against the task, you actually embrace it. You don’t stop or stall; you get out there and take action! And when you take action, you get something pretty amazing: freedom—freedom from guilt; freedom to be the person who you want to be; freedom to do the things that you want to do.
In our coaching program we have many different tools to help you to create choice in your life. One very powerful way to create choice is to find the deeper value of an activity. When you feel like you have to, must, or should do something, usually there’s a real reason that you want to do it; you just haven’t made that association in your brain. Let’s revisit our initial example: eating healthy. Let’s create choice by finding the deeper value in this activity.
Get a piece of paper and a pen. We will ask ourselves some questions, and then write down the answers. First, why do you want to eat healthy, or what’s a positive result that could come from eating healthy? How about more energy. Write that down. Then ask yourself, if I had more energy, how would that make me feel? Then write that emotion down: I would feel active, happy, excited etc. Ask again, what’s a positive result from having more energy? I would want to exercise. If you exercised, how would that make you feel (less stressed, stronger, more accomplished)? Write that down. Keep going— what would be a benefit of exercise? I would lead a longer and more active life with my family. If you could have a better quality of life with your family, how would that make you feel (happy, connected, grateful, blessed)? Write that answer down, and so on and so forth. You can start a new thread as well, maybe this time coming from a place of self- esteem. Why do I want to eat right? Because I would feel better about the “me” that is staring back in the mirror- and feeling good about me helps me to have better relationships with others.
This exercise is important because it creates new neuro-associations to remind yourself of the deeper value. Ultimately, if there is a reason that you should do something, there are probably a least 4 or 5 reasons that you actually want to do that activity. The more you do this exercise, the sooner you will start to want to do the activities that will lead to your goal, and when you truly want to do something, when you break away from the unsustainable cycle of obligation, then you create choice in your life—it will set you free and keep you in action, not just in January and February, but for the entire year to come.