Bob stared in the mirror, looking into his own eyes, as if he were preparing to say with confidence, “Absolutely.” It's now the beginning of February and the buzz of the New Year and New Year’s resolutions have dissipated. Bob is beginning to feel the grind of 2019, and the tension around a few new choices that have presented themselves over the past few months is rising. “My small attempts to make new choices don’t seem to surmount to anything, and that’s such a downer,” Bob told me over lunch recently. “I feel like the new and fresh decisions around my life, my job and my friendships all seem to be so clear for just a brief moment, and then boom—nothing happens. I either miss the opportunity or run out of motivation, or I think nothing will turn out differently. So, no, not new me; same me, again. I don’t know about you, but Bob’s feelings and words really resonate with me. Bob and I have continued to dialog about what keeps us from making proactive decisions in a way that delivers the desired change. We try to answer questions like: Can we really change deep down? and Does change happen from the inside out or outside in? We talk about how we’re afraid of new outcomes we never anticipated, and making decisions and not succeeding. We also discuss how even in times of plenty, we still struggle with choices that lead to change. “Bob, do you think this is just a universal human condition?” I asked.
Stories About Obstacles to Change
Consider the following stories when you are contemplating new opportunities and decisions, or feeling bummed about not making the changes you set out to. Here are five stories about how people were able to overcome their decision-making blocks. These are real stories based on my own experiences or stories I have been involved with. Each of these people was up against a big obstacle, unable to make change just like Bob. I wonder if you see yourself in any of them? I certainly see a little of myself in each of them (especially in the story about me).
Am I prideful? Can I do this without anyone else?
Amanda realized long ago that she might be an alcoholic, and decided to stop drinking more than once. She told me at a holiday party three years ago: “I threw out all of my alcohol, and I decided that I can take care of this cold turkey!” By the next year’s holiday party, Amanda was drinking again. While she made new failed attempts to quit on her own throughout those years, she finally agreed it was time to ask for help. She enrolled in a 12-step program and has been sober for almost two years now. Once she was able to recognize her pride, she could surrender and ask for help in making the change she so badly needed.
Am I afraid? Of what and why?
Brian has been in a dysfunctional relationship for many years, with lots of attempts to make it better. The relationship is really unhealthy for both parties, but they can’t seem to make any moves. Brian spent most of his twenties on his own, and he remembers those years as very lonely. He’s been apprehensive about ending the relationship because he’s afraid of being lonely again. He’s afraid he won’t have what it takes to start a new relationship and that he will be lonely forever. For Brian, in order to change his relationship status today he needs to address his fears that are rooted in the past. Only then can he move on.
Am I being unrealistic, or jumping too far ahead?
Years ago, I decided to tackle weight loss in my life since it was clear that I was truly overweight. I had attempted to make changes before, but with no success. That’s because I was thinking way long-term, expecting that I could go from being a non-exerciser to an Ironman overnight. Finally, it was time to figure out a new plan. I’m happy to say that I was able to overcome years of failed New Year’s weight loss resolutions with a simple change: I started small. My successful plan included creating small steps that over time lead to larger steps, and ultimately, lifestyle changes. For example, I started with a daily 10-minute walk, then moved to 20. I changed one weekly lunch meeting to an outdoor meeting over a walk, and that set a precedent I still keep to this day. Eventually, those small changes snowballed into a new lifestyle that was healthier, and a slimmer me.
I have so much I want to change, I’m overwhelmed!
Zach was getting ready to make three radical changes last year. His mom, a widower, had suffered a stroke and he and his wife were preparing to take her in to live with them. They wanted to move into a home with a first-floor bedroom for her to make the adjustment easier. Plus, Zach had been pursued by a few headhunters and was ready to make a job change that would really make him happy after more than a decade with the same company. When Zach mentioned how overwhelmed he felt, we talked about the wisdom of prioritizing and taking big changes one at a time. Through some introspection and planning, Zach was able to list his big changes in a reasonable order and tackle them one at a time. First order of business: sell the house and move into a new one. That alone was a huge upheaval for Zach and his family, and by focusing solely on that he was able to do it with intention, finding the right home where his mother would be comfortable and where he and his family would feel happy, too. After that, Zach worked through his list, checking off each big change in its own time.
I’m all alone.
Sara has always worked really hard to make everything possible for her kids in an amazing way. She has spent the past two decades focused on her role as a mother, and being depended upon by her children throughout the different phases of their lives. Now her youngest has gone off to college, and 2019 is looking like a pretty lonely and bleak year for Sara. Her children need less from her, but she is so used to giving to them she’s not sure what to do. Rather than sitting alone with that void, Sara decided to reach out to a therapist and to find a network of other parents who are in the same position to support her for her New Year’s resolution. That kind of imbalance isn’t something you can work through by yourself but a dialog with someone who is a professional or a trusted friend can help you work through this in your heart. Can you relate to any of these stories? Or do you have a different story preventing you from making a change? Most people think they’re better than they actually are at making decisions, changing habits, and identifying opportunities. If we are able to engage opportunities to make new and different choices as they come, well, we would likely not need all that New Year’s resolution hype, right? Why not try something a little new this year? Rather than looking in the mirror and getting down like Bob, consider the above stories and try this:
Write your own story in detail.
Write your new story, the story of the new you, in detail.
Put them side by side and create a list of “new you choices” you would make to change the first story into the second.
Revisit this frequently and modify as needed.
It’s about the journey, and these stories can serve as your guide as you encounter and make choices along the way. Finally, commit to remaining in process of change, giving yourself grace freely and often. To do that review your story, current and past, with your new narrative, updating your “new way” frequently as you encounter success or setbacks! New year, new you? Yes, on the path! New year, new you … never stop evolving.