Welcome to January! The month of beginnings, hope, and new year’s resolutions. Whether they’re trying to get fit, to learn a new skill, or to drop a nasty habit, this is the month when many people look at their lives and decide what changes they want to make moving forward. So, if there’s a perfect month to talk about change, then it’s January.
Now, for the purposes of this post I am talking specifically about conscious, personal change. Positive change at that. Making positive change is an admirable goal, and it is so admirable because it is something that so many people struggle with. It’s definitely something that I’ve struggled with, which I think makes it something that warrants some dissecting. So, here we go.
Every year, a great number of people decide to set themselves resolutions. Goals for change that they hope to achieve over the next year. But suffice it to say, the vast majority of people who make new year’s resolutions fail to keep them – and that’s understandable.
Come the 1st of January, after a long and drawn-out year, people see the new year as a new beginning. A chance to make up for the mistakes of the previous one. But the problem with beginnings is that they are just that – beginnings.
It is all well and fine to have lots of energy and motivation come January 1st, but if you can’t take that fire into day two, then what are you left with but bitterness and a never-to-be-used gym membership? Because as much as January reminds us that positive change should be strived for, it’s also a trap that tricks us (at least momentarily) into thinking that change is as straight forward as making the decision to do so come midnight.
But it isn’t that simple – because change isn’t easy. You have to work hard at real change because real change is hard. Change that’s bone deep, that sticks with you for the months and years to come, is hard. It’s an obvious truth, but it’s also one I think that we sometimes forget to appreciate. But as someone who has tried and tried again to change – myself, my habits – I think I am at least getting there.
I understand now that making the decision to change can be very easy in and of itself, but that that single decision isn’t all that it takes. In order to achieve change your commitment can’t stop there. After that initial decision you have to make a series of choices spanning an indefinite amount of time before you can say that you have succeeded; that you have actually made that change. And being able to constantly make the right choices is hard. Especially when you don’t enter the initial commitment in the right head space. At least that’s what I’ve found for myself.
After countless “I’m going to change” moments, followed by miserable failure, I feel I’m at a point in my life where I can at least understand those failures. And as Jaime Lannister said, “there are always lessons in failure.” If nothing else I have learned from my failures, and I think I can avoid making the same mistakes which led to them in the future.
What I’ve learned is that although the reasons for my past failures have manifested in diverse ways, they boil down to the following:
- Not doing it for the right reasons
- Being too hard on myself
- Not being able to see improvement quickly
However they may have manifested I think these three basic points are what have held me back time and time again.
I start my path towards change – whether that be losing weight, making more time for my hobbies, or whatever other change I think will make me a more well-rounded human being – and for a while things go fine. I have my well-thought out plan, vigorous and exhausting, and I stick to it. And I push myself hard, because I want to succeed.
But there are so many problems with that.
To begin with, my reasons for wanting to change often aren’t great.
Typically, I’m not doing it because I want to change, but because I want something that I think I can only get if I change. Things like confidence, or even just the ability to like myself. But the truth is, those are things you need to work at in and of themselves. There is no shortcut to them through something else.
This is especially relevant to changes like losing weight. There is an initial happiness that comes with moving towards my goal and in the little progress I start to see, but it doesn’t last indefinitely. It can work for days, weeks, even months, but at some point the penny drops. I realise that I am no more confident or happy than I was before I started on my path towards change. So I give up.
And then there’s the way I go about trying to achieve change.
In the past, I have often created and enforced a vigorous and strict routine to achieve my goal as quickly as possible. I have pushed myself to workout to an exhausting extent whilst I starved myself, and forced myself to make time for guitar practice or others tasks and activities when there simply wasn’t enough time. It’s all such a tall order. It’s so hard to keep at it endlessly, so slipups inevitably occur.
And, with as hard as I can be on myself, any failure to keep up with those unreasonable standards has the potential to push me towards self-destructing and resigning to the fact that I am a failure. I decide that if I am unable to do what needs to be done to achieve change, then I either do not want it, or do not deserve it. And that’s the end of that.
But, what about if I do manage to keep myself on my strict regime? When my motivation of being happier at some later date is still working and I’m still finding it in myself to continue.
If I only had expectations to make any progress, I might be happy, but I instead set times for when I expect to reach milestones. To lose this much weight in that week, to be able to do this thing on guitar by then, or to find this much time to do that thing by then.
Whilst it’s important to have measurable targets, I also understand that having expectations of when those targets should be reached can be dangerous. Because there is no accounting for factors outside of yourself and your sheer will to change. Not everything goes as planned all the time. And when things don’t go my way – when I’m not the weight that I “should” be, or I haven’t made as much skill progress as I’d have liked to, or I haven’t managed to make a certain amount of time for something – then I lose my motivation. I start to think “what is even the point?” and this leads to me ignoring all the progress I have made, in favour of focusing on how I’ve fallen short. And then I see not point in continuing, so I don’t.
And that’s what it’s always been like for me. I always reach my “wall” – the obstacle that breaks my resolve – and I can’t go any further. Whether I’m at day 1, 101, or even later, I abandon all hope that I can ever make positive change happen for me.
But I’ve been doing my best to escape those traps and those negative ways of thinking, and it seems to be making a difference.
Recently, I’ve been making a few changes in my life, and though its very early days (weeks really), things are going relatively well. I really believe that the self-awareness that I have gained from past experiences has helped me to start in a good place, and I hope this will mean that I remain in a good place and that I can continue towards the change I want.
There are a few things that I am doing differently this time that have been helping.
Firstly and most importantly, I am trying to achieve change because I want it, and not because of some secondary goal.
Though the changes I am aiming to achieve are to make me happy, it is not because I think they will make me more confident somehow or make anyone but me like me. They are things I strive for. I want to be able to play guitar, to read more, write more, and even to find time to explore other interests. And, I think this is the difference that’s had the biggest impact so far. Because even when I feel like giving up, I think about how much I actually want to make the changes I’m attempting to make, and it keeps me going.
Simultaneously, I am making sure to remember not to push myself too hard and to give myself time to relax. And to forgive myself for small failures every now and then. Because as much as I want to dedicate time to achieving change, balancing a full-time job and a home life is difficult, and sometimes it’s okay to take a break.
And taking time to relax is not the only way I’m trying to be more flexible.
Though I know I thrive when I have at least some routine, and that it can help me succeed, it has been made evident that too strict a routine can be too much for me to handle.
So now instead of thinking along the lines of “I’ll work out from 6-7, then from 7-8 I’ll practise guitar, and 8-9 I’ll write,” I try to find time for things when I can, or do things when the mood strikes. And I do it for as long as possible, or for as long as I want.
This has made it much easier to adjust to the world around me when needed and has helped me to avoid unnecessary anxiety or self-loathing stemming from being unable to do something at a certain time.
And, as a side note to the points that directly relate to the earlier “reasons for failure” that I listed, I’m also doing my best to be kinder to myself. To like myself more and be confident in myself and my abilities.
Right now I am nowhere near as confident as I hope to eventually be, but I definitely believe I am on steadier ground than I was before. And any progress is good progress, right?
I’m really happy with where I’ve managed to get myself and I don’t think I could have gotten into the head space that allowed me to get here without my past failures, so in a way I am thankful for them.
I think I might really have a chance at making change stick this time. And even if I slip up I think – or at least hope – that I will be able to pick myself back up again.
So, what was I trying to get across with my post?
For the most part I just hoped that writing all of this down would help me organise my own thoughts on the matter of change. And, I hoped that the post might in future act as a reminder to myself when my resolve inevitably wanes. But if anyone can read this and empathise, or even take away something that might help them with whatever changes they hope to make in their own lives, then it will have been worth blogging.
Whatever you take away from this post, thanks for reading it.
Happy New Year!