I know I say this a lot. As a matter of fact, I know you do too. So, say it with me, “I can’t believe January is over already.”
With one month down, so too are the majority of New Year’s Resolutions. Sadly, by the end of the first week of the first month, 30 percent of resolutions have gone the way of all flesh. Come year’s end, only eight percent remain; it’s therefore accurate to deduce that over 90 percent of us give up on our commitments by the time the ball drops on the next year. How frustrating.
There are a few reasons.
Most of us set vague goals.
For example, we say, “This year, I’m going to take better care of myself,” or “I’m going to lose weight,” or “stress less.” Intention positive? Yep. But without a specific action plan, it’s a nebulous, free-floating, hazy decree, dissipating as quickly as the fog which hugs the coast on a summer morning.
Another cause for failure is relying too much on the wrong definition of willpower, too often seen as our ability to white-knuckle bully our way through temptation.
Willpower is NOT the ability to take a long-term stand, plant our feet, cross our arms, and defiantly proclaim, “I won’t give in!” Rather, if we reframe the definition to, “I won’t give in THIS ONE TIME,” we alleviate much of the self-imposed pressure, upping the odds we’ll actually accomplish what we say we want.
Willingness to forgo short-term pleasure for a long-term benefit is rarely easy, and when stressed, tired, angry, or sad; it essentially puts us at odds with our own internal drive, paradoxically increasing the stressor and further eroding the potential for success. This causes self-flagellation and – in the end – we throw in the towel “until next year,” repeating yet again the hopeless cycle.
Backing this up are studies conducted by David DeSteno, professor of psychology at Northeastern University, and author of Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride. As he points out,
“Choosing to rely on rational analysis and willpower to stick to our goals, [is] disadvantaging ourselves … If using willpower to keep your nose to the grindstone feels like a struggle, that’s because it is. Your mind is fighting against itself. It’s trying to convince, cajole and, if that fails, suppress a desire for immediate pleasure.”
Professor DeSteno proposes that gratitude and compassion are more likely to yield valuable results because those emotions naturally lead us to be patient, which logically, increases the odds that we’ll stick with a task.
From an evolutionary perspective, what actually drove societal success was our innate need to form supportive relationships. The consequence of those connections was cooperation and support of one another. In order to maintain such relationships, we needed to be fair, honest, generous, and loyal; in effect putting something and someone else ahead of our own immediate desires and interests. When one analyzes the overall implications, we come away with the realization that we don’t help others because of a logical, rational gain; instead we just feel it’s the “right thing to do.”
Our emotions – specifically, gratitude, compassion and an authentic sense of pride – lead us to behave in ways that diminish the immediate need for gratification. Grateful people show nearly double the self-control of those who are not. When thankful, we spend more time helping those who ask for assistance, make financial decisions that benefit partners equally, and show loyalty to those who help us – even if it’s at a cost to ourselves.
In effect, when we feel proud of ourselves, exhibiting compassion and kindness, we are more disposed to wait for future rewards – which ironically is the definition of Willpower.