So…it’s February 2.
How are you doing on your New Year’s Resolutions?
I read today that only about 8-9% of those who make them are able to keep them. This quote by Viktor Frankl, one of my favorite authors, might shed some light on the issue:
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state, but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him…Life can be pulled by goals as surely as it can be pushed by drives.”
Using Frankl’s rationale, here are three reasons we might not be succeeding:
1. We may not have enough struggle and striving in our lives. Most of the people I work with (including myself on most days) are very interested in DECREASING tension. We want less stress and strife and more peace. Right? Well, we may have it wrong. We may actually need to start looking for fights. The key is finding the right things to fight for.
How to think about this differently: Consider whether tension may actually be a good thing in your life. What if I told you about a new movie, where there was a guy and he really wanted a girl. So he found a cute on in a coffee shop, and he asked her out, and she said yes and then they got married. You wouldn’t watch the movie and neither would I. Where’s the struggle? The drama? The tension? As fiction goes, the greater the struggle, the greater the story. If we won’t settle for plain-vanilla-peaceful-easy in fiction, then why do we work so hard for it in real life?
2. We may sabotaging our best efforts to reach our goals. We say we want to lose weight/get in shape/be more active, but when the alarm goes off, all we really want to do is stay in bed. If we stay in bed, what we are actually saying to ourselves is that our current state of comfort is MORE IMPORTANT to us than that other goal. In making this choice, we give into our drives (which push us into corners) rather than into goals (which pull us where we want to go). This is self-sabotage, and you’re probably at least a little bit familiar with it.
How to think about this differently: Consider whether you are being “pushed by your drives” or “pulled by your goals.” If I am standing at the edge of a deep pool, and you come behind me and push me in, I have no choice but to go into the deep water. Sink or swim. Being pushed from behind leaves me absolutely no choice but to go with the momentum. For me, not a strong swimmer, that is not a good place to be.
On the other hand, I have a 60+ pound Husky-mix who can pull so hard on the leash it practically yanks my arm out. If I hopped on a sled, she would gladly pull me anywhere I wanted to go. It would just be a matter of me gently guiding her in the right direction. Same kind of momentum as being pushed in the pool, but the difference is – I’m in control. If she goes rogue and tries to take me down a bad path—worst case—I let go of the rein. I’m still in control.
When we give into the feeling of momentary comfort (staying in bed) – we are pushed into feeling distressed and defeated because we didn’t reach our goal. On the other hand, if we grab onto the rein of “going to the gym” we are in control and pulled a little farther on the path of where we want to be.
3. We have not perfected the art of tolerating discomfort. The clichés are plenty: “no pain no gain,” “Anything good is worth fighting for…” We know these things are true. Problem is, most of us do not like to be uncomfortable. Many of us were never really taught to tolerate discomfort, and were not challenged to solve our own problems. But I promise you this: people who can tolerate discomfort are more successful than those who cannot.
How to think about this differently: One of the things I do is teach emotional survival skills. One set of those skills is called “distress tolerance.” These skills help us manage – rather than run away from – discomfort. I often tell people to “lean in” to their pain. They never like this, but they also come back later and tell me that it is helpful. What I mean by this is to think about what the pain is trying to tell you. Ask why it is so upsetting. Think about what you might be learning from it and how it could be making you a better person.
This is also where we learn to breathe deep, to count sheep, to listen to soothing music, take a long hot shower, call a friend, or take naps. Distress tolerance is about learning how to peacefully co-exist with discomfort until it passes – because it inevitably does, especially when we are on our way to something greater
If those resolutions you made a few weeks ago are really worth accomplishing, then take a few minutes to answer the following questions to help you figure out what might be holding you back:
- What do you want?
- Why is this so important to you?
- How far are you willing to go to get it?
- What people or things might you have to struggle with in order to make it happen?
- What could you be doing that may sabotage your efforts?
- Can you think of some examples of how you let drives push you rather than let goals pull you?
- What is making you super uncomfortable right now?
- How might your life change if you could lean into the pain a bit more
- Make a list of a few things you can do to help you co-exist with distress instead of frantically trying to push it away.