Remember when resolutions were considered a good thing? It wasn’t that long ago when vowing to become better, finding the areas of your life that needed improvement, and creating a sense of optimism was met with acceptance.
Not just “New Year’s resolutions,” but any commitment to change. It wasn’t that long ago when vowing to become better, finding the areas of your life that needed improvement, and creating a sense of optimism was met with acceptance.
But there’s a shift occurring. Somewhere along the way, those who use January 1 as “National Goal Setting Day” were criticized for a variety of reasons. Instead of encouraging people for their efforts, the sentiment became, “You shouldn’t need a day to motivate you to become better. You should be inspired every day.”
To that, I have a simple response: Who cares?
Who cares what motivates someone to change—as long as they are motivated. What difference does it make if you set your goals on January 1, July 22nd, or every third Wednesday of the month? If you like setting resolutions and it makes you feel better, then do it.
The real issue isn’t about a desire to change — it’s why you oftentimes fall short of your goals.
Every year millions set resolutions and fail. Or sign up for personal training and can’t lose weight. Many others dream of a better job and end up stuck in the same position. Write the script however you want, but many are unfulfilled and looking for an explanation.
Out of frustration, we try to create reasons for the failure.
Maybe resolutions are the problem. If so many people do them, maybe they should be eliminated.
I’m not for or against resolutions. I’m a supporter of doing whatever works for you.
Finding that sweet spot is less about putting labels on a solution, and much more about understanding the right questions to ask so that you can figure out the answers you need. Or in this case, understanding how your approach to change is oftentimes flawed.
There’s a reason you read articles like the one you see here.
And it’s not self-improvement.
It’s curiosity. And maybe more accurately fear.
It’s not that you’re fearful that you’re not becoming better; you’re worried that there’s something you’re not doing that you should be.
People fail not because they lack the desire or ability to succeed. But oftentimes they suffer from what is called “ego depletion.” In other words: mental fatigue. I’ve written before about the importance of willpower and how it’s a real thing.
Our struggles are tied to a lack of control. And that control results from an overwhelming number of urges in life. Each one drains your willpower a little more and leaves you with little to get the job done.
So your job is not so much “identify the goal” (such as lose weight), but find ways to become more honest with yourself and narrow the focus of what you really need to work on.
Go Slow to Go Fast
There are probably one thousand ways to write a “Make your life better” article. You can start with a quote. You can create a list. You can even build a flow chart or an infographic to visually inspire.
I’ve tried many of these before. Some with success. Others without. And most—like all things in life—with mixed reviews.
But maybe the most direct way to do it is to show it from my own eyes.
Every year I work with dozens of people one-on-one to help them reshape their lives and gain more control. They let me into their lives. Make me their family member. Their brother. Their friend. Their trainer and therapist and bartender. Whatever it takes.
I listen. And learn. And watch them change me.
The more you work with people the more you learn exactly how to help them. Sometimes they need information, other times they need inspiration (as in they need to believe that the info/lesson applies to them), and the other category is direction.
This is where we need more help. Less time saying “Do exactly this” and more time saying, “Find how this applies to your life.”
You don’t need me to tell you that you must love your life. You know that. And you don’t need me to tell you how to live your life.
Your life is your own. My life is mine. And neither is better than the other. Each is distinct and handcrafted. So instead of telling you what to do, which only adds more mental fatigue and sucks up the willpower, it’s more important to give you tools and options that you can use to simplify your approach.
Tomorrow starts today
I truly believe that the people who are able to write their own script are the ones that learn the most—in both successes and failures—and can become better, stronger, and create the life they want.
Only you can carry your torch, but sometimes you need a match to see the paths a little more clearly.
With that in mind, here are 5 options of what you can do to be the change. It doesn’t matter if it’s to start a new year or at any time you feel you need a kick-start. Search for these answers and use these questions to narrow what is missing in your life. Then apply in small pieces. You don’t have to make these changes all at once. Focus and take an aggressive approach that puts you in control. Once that happens, then the changes are more likely to occur.
Life Changer #1: Do something you used to love
People talk all the time about how much more children smile than adults. It’s natural because as a child you don’t have any stress. But as children, we also care less about what others think and simply do things because they are enjoyable.
That simplicity of doing something just because is an asset found in some of the happiest people in the world.
Stanford psychologist found that the perception of control over enjoyable activities in life is important to fulfillment. In other words: You should be doing things you like because you like them. There doesn’t have to be a reason or a purpose, and you shouldn’t have to give an excuse.
So think about what you used to enjoy and explore the reasons why you stopped it. Many times there was no good reason at all, and it might be a great time to turn back the clock as you move forward.
Life Changer #2: Ask, “What have I wanted to do that I keep avoiding?”
Most people’s lives are filled with routines. Wake up, make meals for yourself and/or your children, go to work, maybe talk with some friends, eat dinner, sleep, and repeat.
There’s nothing wrong with these patterns but they limit your ability to find missing pieces. Sometimes we become so focused on what we are doing wrong that we fail to consider we might be doing everything right—but that certain elements are missing that could make us happier.
Not only does this remove some pressure of searching for things that are wrong, it will open you up to new experiences that you may have never realized were central to your happiness.
Life Changer #3: Reassess…and then try again
For the past 6 years, I’ve been missing something that I love: teaching. So after years of saying, “I’ll do it next year” I finally jumped back into education by teaching an online course for a university.
It was great being able to teach again—but it did it not go according to plan. Not even close. There were many reasons why I didn’t succeed, and the easy answer could have been, “I suck.” (I’m sure many of my students might think that’s the case)
But I read all the bad reviews. Talked with my supervisor about what I could have done better. I rewatched every lecture (they were online and recorded), and made a list of everything I would improve and could have done better.
My approach was focused: No excuses. No finger pointing. And most importantly no quitting just because things didn’t go the way I had hoped.
If I’ve said it once I’ve said it 100 times: Failure is oftentimes a part of success. Sometimes, it might even be necessary for success. But the great ones don’t let their struggles tear them done—they use them to build back stronger.
Next time you face a moment where you didn’t meet your goals, don’t chalk it up to a loss.
In life, there is always another quarter if you choose to stay in the game. And if you make the right adjustments, odds are you will win.
Life Changer #4: Ask a Friend for Criticism
This is something I’ve learned from writing books. When you’re so close to a project (such as your own life) oftentimes it’s hard to see what’s missing and the areas that need the most improvement. Just like training a muscle, we oftentimes do more of what we love and avoid what we really need.
In an ideal world, your friends will call you out when you need help. But sometimes your “problems” are not anything serious. So instead of waiting for someone to say something, you should take action and ask for a review. It’s like what you’d get in your job, but this comes from someone you definitely respect and trust.
Don’t take this as a bad thing, and don’t get angry at your friend for what they might say.
Remember: criticism is not a way to make you feel bad. It is a guide to help you become better.
Life Change #5: Give More
A close friend of mine was recently feeling frustrated with his job because he was working in an environment that generated negativity. My friend watches as those at the top of the corporate ladder seemed to break all the laws of being a good person. He was left with two options: Embrace a “nice guys finish last” mentality or try and rage against the machine.
He chose door #2 and decided to be good and do well in spite of the negativity.
It’s a choice we’re oftentimes forced to face: We are oftentimes more aware of the bad in the world (even if it’s the minority), that it’s easy to wonder, “Will doing good really make a difference?”
It does. In a big way. Just like the commercials of paying it forward, we are a society of observational learners. When we see people do “bad” and get ahead it reinforces a belief that we can do the same. But the opposite is also true. When you do good, other people see it. Even if they don’t mention it, they see it and it inspires them to do the same.
How does giving more make your life better? Giving is the ultimate test of passion. When you do something with no expectation in return, you easily find what fuels you. (And conversely, what doesn’t.) You also learn about your ability to communicate, lead, and follow tasks that might be outside of your comfort zone.
All of these are valuable but oftentimes they are learned in a pressure situation, like your job. When you can build capabilities in a less stressful situation (such as when you’re volunteering your time), you remove many of those barriers and grow as a person in ways you would never expect. Many of my best lessons in leadership came not from running a company but while tutoring inner-city children during my spare time.
Not to mention, if we all gave more—whether to charity, your friends or family, or a complete stranger—we would inspire others to do the same. You can give money, offer help, or just ask someone how they are doing and if you can help out. If more people decided to make this a priority, it would create an army of people all united by one cause: to help others.
It’s so simple but it’s effective. Give to one. And that one could be the spark that not only pushes you but also helps many.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and, according to The Huffington Post, “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, E! News, and The Cheddar.