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How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

25Several years ago, four of my friends—Marlene, Ellie, Karla, and Chip—all resolved to get in shape and lose weight. Now, these people had never met, so the odds of their making exactly the same resolution were…actually quite predictable, since pretty much everybody puts fitness on their New Year’s resolutions list. There are rumors of humans who’ve never resolved to eat less and move more, but until scientists discover concrete evidence (hair, fibers, DNA-smeared doughnut boxes), we must assume they exist only in hallucinations of ordinary people who’ve been weakened by months and months of dieting. 

At any rate, by February all my friends had fallen off the resolution wagon and were munching their way to larger clothing sizes and a profound sense of failure. Something similar may happen to you this year, whatever your resolutions.If it does, don’t blame your weak will; blame isolation. Research shows that humans tend to do difficult things much better in teams and groups than on their own. I suggest that this year you seek a specific type of goal-oriented companionship I call the Fellowship of the Resolution. 

The Virtue of Motley Crews 

If you loved J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (or hated it but absorbed the plot because of peer pressure), you’ll recall that the Fellowship of the Ring was a team consisting of hobbits, humans, a dwarf, a wizard, and an elf. Although these species usually avoided one another, their disparities turned out to be essential for saving Middle Earth. The Fellowship met monsters only a hobbit could trick, caves only a dwarf could spelunk, spells only an elf could counter, and orcs whose strength could be overcome only by Viggo Mortensen’s flexing of his facial muscles, paralyzing the beasts with acute awareness of their inferior looks. 

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, you, too, need a Fellowship. But it’s not enough to enlist your longtime BFFs—the buddies you’ve known forever, who think and act just like you. As Tolkien’s story suggests, the key to success is teaming up with people who are emphatically not on your wavelength. This is especially true in behavioral patterns called conative styles. 

How You Do That Thing You Do

When people talk about change, they often emphasize affective factors, which shape our feelings, and cognitive differences, which influence thinking. They overlook patterns that relate to doing. According to Kathy Kolbe, a specialist in learning strategies, conation is the aspect of human consciousness that determines how we tackle any task. She has identified four conative styles:

  • “Quick start” adherents swing directly into action, making creative discoveries—and mistakes—through trial and error.
  • “Fact finders” need information; they’re the friends who’ll research every relevant factoid about any task they’re preparing to undertake.
  • “Follow through” people naturally use methodical systems: They set up files for every receipt and alphabetize their refrigerator contents.
  • “Implementers” focus on physical objects and environments; they figure out things by building models or grabbing the appropriate tools. They respond better to bricks and mortar than castles in the air.

If necessary most of us can tap into and use all four conative styles, but we tend to favor one or two of these behaviors. Yet conatively, as in every other area of life, too much of one style can be a weakness. For instance, consider the “failure modes” of the four dieters I mentioned earlier:

  • Marlene, who favors quick-start action, leaped straight into an organic raw-food diet. Two weeks into her regimen, her hunger and disgruntlement triggered a backslide to a menu of cupcakes and beer, which Marlene maintains today.
  • Ellie, who prefers the fact-finder conative style, never actually began dieting or exercising. She’s still researching and evaluating fitness programs, using a process so detailed she’ll finish her analysis next July (at the earliest).
  • Karla, as a follow-through, has a zest for systems, so she joined a reputable weight loss program, which was perfect—except that she hated it. The weekly weigh-ins terrified her, and the prescribed food had all the epicurean appeal of bat guano. After a month, she began sleep-eating peanut butter.
  • Chip, with his love of the concrete implementer strategy, drastically cut his food intake while quadrupling his level of exercise. Back spasms soon landed him in bed, where he began inhaling polymer-based foodlike products from the minimart to ease his frustration.

They each failed because their closest friends share their conative preferences, which means they had no one to help them in the areas where they were weak. But if these four very different people linked up as a Fellowship, things might have turned out differently. Marlene’s dynamic quick-start energy could have pushed Ellie past her analysis paralysis. Ellie could have researched a weight loss system more suited to Karla’s taste. Karla’s methodical approach could have pointed Chip toward a sustainable exercise program, and away from the weekend warrior syndrome. And Chip’s enthusiasm for three-dimensional places and processes could have inspired the women to hit the gym more often. (There are many more benefits this Fellowship might have discovered, but you get the idea.) 

Forming Your Fellowship

Because I’m aware of conative styles, I never set out toward a difficult goal without a team of opposites. I know that I mostly prefer quick-start action and hands-on implementer creativity, and I feel about strict systems the way tigers feel about vegetarianism (“Are you fricking kidding me?”). So when I first started my own business, I hired my friend Yvonne, who’s high in both follow-through and fact finder, to run it. 

Yvonne and I knew from the outset that we’d butt heads. Her meticulous system maintenance makes me want to drive cactus spines into my skull, while my frequent leaps into the unknown give Yvonne nightmares. But we also knew that our differences made us a damn fine Fellowship, back when I was starting out. With me spewing ideas like the chocolate assembly line in I Love Lucy and Yvonne insisting that everything get properly packaged and inventoried, we created things neither of us could have managed on our own. 

You can achieve similar success this New Year by forming your own Fellowship of the Resolution. First, identify your own behavior style. You can do this for a moderate fee on Kathy Kolbe’s Web site (kolbe.com; $50), or you can figure it out yourself using the loose descriptions in this column (if you go the former route, you’re probably high in follow-through or fact finder, while taking the fast-and-loose approach suggests you have quick-start tendencies). Please remember that you may enjoy one or two action styles, but virtually no one is high in all four. 

Next, you want to find people who prefer action styles you avoid. Meeting people with your conative complements isn’t hard, though teaming up with them will feel a little weird. Remember, hobbits and elves and dwarfs and men were uneasy with each other, too—but just think what would have happened to Middle Earth if any of them had been omitted from the mix! We’d all be slaves in Mordor right now! 

As you assemble your Fellowship, you can once again refer to Kathy Kolbe’s Web-based evaluation (having your collaborators take the official conation test), or you can shoot from the hip. Since we now understand that I personally am a hip-shooter, I’ve assembled some guidelines for targeting people you might want in your Fellowship. This involves knowing your own conative dislikes and going directly toward them, rather than running away from them:

  • If you have trouble getting started on difficult projects, look for a quick-start companion— the person who shocks you by getting married, moving house, or adopting a pack of dogs mere hours after coming up with the idea.
  • If you absolutely hate doing research, never reading the entire recipe or instruction manual before starting to cook or assemble furniture, you need to find yourself a fact finder—the kind of person who won’t so much as wash her hair without first googling every ingredient in her shampoo.
  • If you love creative chaos and can’t stand systematic repetition, add a follow-through to your Fellowship. This will be the friend whose closets are organized by clothing style, color, date purchased, and price (adjusted regularly to account for market fluctuation).
  • If you’d rather not grapple with the actual objects involved in your resolution (reorganizing your office, getting and using a yoga mat, devising an ingenious machine that gives you a powerful electric shock each time you reach for the potato chips), you should team up with an implementer. She’ll be the one who raves about the joy of installing her own bathroom tiles or taking trapeze lessons from circus acrobats.

A general rule is that your best partner will be the person who makes you shake your head in disbelief and mutter, “I guess it takes all kinds.” Because it does. (And it may help to remember that your conative compadres will be looking at you the same way.) One more hint: Because most people are moderately or very strong in more than one conative area, your Fellowship could be formed with just one companion—if that person is strong in the one or two areas in which you are weak. 

Once you’ve got your group in place, I recommend that you take a little bit of time to discuss your opposites-attract strategy with your Fellowship. Yvonne and I work together successfully because we’ve always acknowledged our conative differences. When I hanker to move faster than Yvonne, she reminds me, “Settle down, woman! You hired me to be a follow-through!” When she yearns for a coworker who doesn’t think quite so much like a Labrador retriever, I point out that my quick-start enthusiasm gives her a whole lot of things to organize. Do the same with your Fellowship, and you’ll remind yourself that everyone benefits when all four conative styles are covered. 

This year I’m going to urge Marlene, Ellie, Karla, and Chip to join forces. Once people assemble in such unlikely Fellowships, they realize an equally unlikely result: success. Whether your resolution is to lose weight, budget better, cut back on Internet poker, or slog to Mordor carrying the Ring of Doom, finding your motley crew of opposites will help you make it all the way to your goals—and the Fellowship itself, I believe, will bring great joy. Especially if it includes Viggo Mortensen. 

Kiss, Kiss

Well here it is: 2013. My understanding was that this year was never supposed to exist because of something the Mayans said in their fancy carvings. I’m not one to kick the Mayans when they’re down—I’m just saying. Being a woman of faith, I just assumed I would not exist as this point, so I’m scrambling to come up with some New Year’s resolutions.

I feel inspired because someone gave me a reading from the amazing Ainslie MacLeod, and I basically got a kiss from the angels. By “kiss,” I mean the acronym for the statement KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID. Several times Ainslie repeated that he was hearing the phrase “simple simple simple” repeated three times. This is not the first time I have been told I make things more complicated than they need to be. And from my observation, I am not the only person with this problem. Even if you never make resolutions, the New Year is psychologically important as an opportunity to recalibrate your daily habits and your overall way of living. So here are some instructions to help:

  1. List all the improvements you’d like to make in your body, your career, and your moral character.
  2. Throw away the list. It is way, way, too complicated to make all those changes overnight. (KISS, KISS)
  3. Choose one small EASY change that would inch your life in a slightly more positive direction. For example, during my recent move I fell off the exercise wagon completely. It is a 30-minute drive to the nearest gym. Since I moved from Phoenix (where people regularly drop dead from heat exhaustion just going to 7-Eleven) I’m conditioned only to work out in gyms. To remedy this I bought exercise implements and put them in my barn. Our dog became convinced that the gym equipment was an evil animal and became so hysterical at the sight of it that we eventually had to cover it with a tarp. This conveniently hid even the idea of regular exercise from my guilt-ridden eyes. My New Year’s resolution is simply to go into the barn and touch the exercise equipment every day. Oh, all right, every couple of days. (KISS, KISS)

This action step may seem absurdly small but as the magical Ainslie MacLeod reminded me, change is so hard for most of us that only the tiniest, simplest resolutions are ever kept.
 
I’m issuing a call for tiny resolutions! Make a ridiculously small resolution and post it (and a picture or video) on my Facebook page. We will call it “The Tiny Resolution Club.” Click on my video below and just you watch: Come March, August, October we’ll be the ones easing our way into significant change. (KISS, KISS, KISS)

The Joy Zone– It’s Too Good to Be False

I was just reading over the copy for this month’s telecourse, “Get What You Want  — No Resolutions Required“, and at first I thought, “this sounds too good to be true.”  But for this year of my life I’ve decided to question every limiting belief that passes through my head.  I recognized a limiting belief and immediately turned it around. What came out was, “this sounds too good to be false.”  And this felt much, much truer.   

As we begin 2010, I have a feeling that all of us in this Tribe, and perhaps all others, are achieving new levels of capability when it comes to things like remaining rooted in joy, working effortlessly, and achieving a magnificent relationship with money, and becoming friendly with our own bodies.  I have a sense of things speeding up, although this may just be my medication. 

This is all the more reason for us to communicate with one another, share new insights and celebrate both the useful and not so useful outcomes of all of our experiments.  I like to emphasize the fact that these are skills, not circumstances.  Friendships, abundance, rapid learning–all of these are inside jobs.  As we correct what is disordered in our own thinking, miracles trickle into our lives and then become torrents. 

I don’t expect everyone to commit to questioning every disturbing thought, but I can tell you that this single process has vastly accelerated the influx of miracles to my life.  I wish the same for all other beings and the tools are right here in our hands and our minds, or at the very least our libraries.  

Today, please connect with a book or person who pulls you into the zone of joy (or I should say helps you pull yourself into the zone of joy), and feel the beauty of that experience.  Nothing I can say here will give you half as much insight as a moment of living it.  You’ll discover firsthand that living in the joy zone is itself “too good to be false.”

Happy New Year, Everybody!

Okay, folks, you know me too well to think I’d let New Year’s Eve pass without making a fuss over resolutions. I LOVE New Year’s resolutions! However, I do not love social-self rigidity, white-knuckle compliance, or devotion to things that fail to contribute to your absolute happiest existence. I’m here to challenge you to make resolutions that really will change your life in a very good way.

Here’s the recipe for a truly terrific New Year’s resolution:

1. Feel for your future happiness. Get still, clear out the din of other people’s voices in your mind, and let yourself know what your heart is doing. Find the things it yearns for. They might seem impossible, or silly, or ignoble, or presumptuous, or selfish, or wicked. I DON’T CARE. YOUR HEART’S YEARNING IS YOUR DESTINY!

2. Once you’ve identified what you yearn for, resolve to receive it. THIS IS THE ONLY RESOLUTION YOU NEED FOR 2008.

3. Every day, for at least 5 minutes, sit quietly and pretend that you already have whatever it is your heart is yearning for. Actually, I’d prefer it if you did this little visualization many many times every day. But 5 minutes is better than nothing.

4. After picturing your desire fulfilled, completely let go of the image and return to the absolute present—this moment, not next week or next day or next instant, but THIS MOMENT.

5. Whatever is happening in this moment, accept it completely. If you are grieving, grieve wholeheartedly, and accept the grieving. If you are enraged, be fully enraged, and okay with it. If you’re bored, accept the boredom. Say “Yes” to the mess, whatever the mess is in your life.

6. Feel as much gratitude as you can for this moment (even if it seems awful), and for the fulfillment of your heart’s desires (even if it seems impossible).

Those of you who’ve read Finding Your Own North Star may recognize this as similar to Wildly Improbable Goals. It is—but I’ve refined the technique as I’ve experimented and learned. This kind of resolution-making is like magic. Try it for a year, and see!

May joy, excitement, fulfillment, contentment, and adventure fill this year for each of you!

Martha