Two weeks ago, we sat on the edge of 2024 with all of the expectant hope a new year brings. For many of us, that edge is a time of self-reflection and contemplation of things past, the realities of our present, and our desires for our future. In All That We Need to Leave Behind, I wrote of the baggage that often holds us back from our best self and the life we’re made to live: attachments, hurts, people, fears, sloth, self-image, and even our notions of success and happiness. The point? Our voyage into 2024 is a good place to do some pruning and leave some of that baggage behind.
Now almost fourteen days into the new year, how are we doing?
First, a few statistics. A recent Forbes Health Poll says that 37% of respondents said they have a goal or resolution for the new year. Fitness sat at the top of the list at 48% with finances (38%), improving mental health (36%), losing weight (34%), and improving diet (32%) rounding out the top 5 priorities. About half of those polled planned to make three resolutions. The average duration of a resolution? 3.74 months. About half of resolutions are dropped within 3 months (8% – 1 month, 22% – two months, 22% – 3 months). Generally speaking, action-oriented goals last longer than self-denial goals.
For many, the notion of new year’s resolutions has become a bit of a joke and we see things like “Quitters Day” popping up as a cynical acknowledgement of the difficulties of sticking to our plans and achieving our goals. We all want to “do better,” don’t we? Why is it so tough to stick with our plans and achieve better? I’ll leave the data and psycho analysis to the professionals. The only thing that matters is what’s going on between your ears and translating it into the daily choices you are making.
In All That We Need to Leave Behind, I wrote of things that should be pruned from our lives to help us “be better.” However, it begs two questions: What is “better” and what do we put in the place of the baggage we’ve dropped?
General questions asked in a poll are truly blunt instruments when it comes to dissecting the complexity of a human being and his or her motivations. One major problem with achieving any goal is setting the right goal. I would argue that many “resolutions” center on addressing symptoms of deeper issues or desires, are too broad or vague, and are not supported with a realistic plan for achieving. But this post isn’t really about resolutions, goal-setting, or a blunt-instrument poll.
Looking at my own process of self-reflection, pruning, and planning, for 2024 led me down some interesting paths. Why are we seeking better? What holds things in place? Once we’ve decided to leave something behind, what do we put in the space created?
What we’re really talking about is change and our very human inclination to resist it. Why? Because it’s not easy, we don’t see a way forward, and/or we don’t perceive the result of that change as being worth its cost. We really are creatures of habit and the patterns that structure our life dictate the life we lead. Our routines are the fabric of our existence. They control our time, our frame of mind, our expectations, the fruit of our efforts, and underpin the symptoms that we frequently identify as our “problems.”
Think about your routines. There are many forms of habits and the patterns holding us in place are hiding in plain sight:
- How we work
- How we drive
- How we cook
- How we exercise
- How we plan
- How we act
- How we choose
- How we fill our time
Look at your day. Are you driving it or being driven through it? Let’s use social media as an example. The design of the “feed” is insidious. It never stops. It is changing constantly. What happens when we’re plugged into the “feed?” It distracts. It overwhelms with information. It fosters constant comparison. It creates fear of missing out. It wastes time. However, it’s biggest impact is that it dictates your flow. When you are watching the feed, it influences your thoughts, when you’re thinking them, your sense of urgency or need to respond, and even your priorities. Who’s driving whom?
In our business, we work with thousands of individuals living with diabetes. The disease is well documented. Its effects are known. There are many resources and therapies available to help manage it, and yet, many struggle to do so. Why? Barriers and patterns. There are real cost, access, and complexity, barriers and removing them is a huge part of helping diabetics manage their disease. However, even with those barriers removed, many struggle to adhere to the known therapies that help. Here, the patterns, the routines, conspire to hold things in place. Some patterns include:
- Social routines – where we interact with others and who we are socializing with.
- Schedule – how we start our day, where we spend our time, the structure of our work
- Shopping – where, when, and how we like to shop
- Entertainment – where, when, how
See the pattern? Where. When. How. Once set, we tend to stay in the same orbit. It is the orbit, the gravitational pull, holding everything we don’t like about ourselves and our current life in place. The challenge isn’t convincing someone they need to change. The first challenge is convincing them that change can happen and that it is worth it. From there, the challenge becomes creating a new pattern.
Aristotle is quoted as saying, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” If we become good at that which we spend our time doing, what are we doing with our time? What is setting the tempo of your day and your thoughts? Who is dictating where you place your precious attention?
There is a time to take away and a time to add. There is a time to stay the course and a time to pivot. Look at the patterns of your life. Patterns of preparation. Patterns of reaction. Patterns of time. Patterns of investment. Where are you investing your time and energy? When you consider what you want for your life, are you focused on the symptoms or the underlying patterns?
For my 2024, I looked closely at my own “cow paths” – the byways of thought and action that formed my own daily patterns and asked myself, “Where do I need change and what is holding me in place?” Wherever I saw a need for change, I asked “why?” The “why” must be worth the price. With a bit of reflection, the routines emerged – some good, some needing adjustment, and some needing pruned. From there, the work begins.
Whether we realize it or not, we are changing. If we are aware, we can direct the change. If we are not aware, the world around us is doing it for us in the patterns, the routines, that have us held in place. What we consume in information changes our minds and our hearts. What we consume in our food changes our bodies. Where we spend our time is what we master. How we spend our time is how much we master it. Look at your routines. Consider your patterns. Then decide, who’s driving whom?