2012-01-07 / Viewpoints

Resolved? Better be compelled first


ROBERT HOOFTALLEN, PUBLISHER ROBERT HOOFTALLEN, PUBLISHER The new year prompts many of us to take a hard look at ourselves and consider changes. We all seem rattled by an inner calling that wants better of us.

Most of us don’t have to think too long or too hard about what we’d like to do differently. We resolve to exercise. We resolve to lose weight. We resolve to not procrastinate. We resolve to quit some bad habit or the other.

What I notice about most of our resolving is that we tend to resolve to do what got us in a position to need resolving in the first place—fussing over ourselves.

In other words, our resolutions most often involve undoing what we have done to ourselves by taking our unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness a little too far.

What is unique about resolutions is that just by making them we feel immediately better. We are certain that with the changing year, we’ll change, as if we were held hostage by the previous year and it forced us into our predicament.

But the truth is, making real changes to ourselves is the single most difficult thing we ever do— or try to do— and many people never do change, at least not for the better.

That’s because the meaningful change we seek cannot be triggered by the stroke of midnight Jan. 1.

People only make meaningful change when they are compelled to do so. And when I say “compelled,” I mean that you become convinced that your failure will have such an adverse effect on your life that death may be better. That’s what compelling is and that’s the kind of mindset we must have if we are going to make real change in our lives.

But how do we get there?

For many of us, life will intervene and compel us in a way that calls us to action. Cancer strikes someone we love. We have our own major health issue. A loved one dies. A loved one leaves. Those kinds of things take hold of us and we are driven in a way that we find difficult to duplicate in the absence of such circumstances.

That’s because we only change when we believe in our reason to do so. It has to be compelling.

Most often we focus our changes on ourselves. We want to look better. We want to feel better. We want to make more money...

But those are just not compelling enough for most of us. There are so many ways we can make ourselves mask or cover up the things we want to change with immediate, although temporary, satisfaction.

We binge eat. We binge drink. We buy a new car. Or a new pair of shoes. We get that creamfi lled donut. We skip our walk “just for tonight.” We buy bigger clothes— again.

Since we can make ourselves feel good enough in the now, we can muster no compelling reason to change our behavior.

Resolutions can work, but they are a waste of time until we get to the bottom of why we really want to make a change.

For many of us, children and/or grandchildren are the compelling reasons. But we have to change the way we think in order to see it.

For example:

If we procrastinate, we need to be honest with ourselves about who else that behavior is hurting. And we have to put the squandered time in perspective and see how it could have been better spent.

If you have children and you are obese, you are telling them by your actions that it’s okay to be obese, thereby threatening their long-term health. Also, you are all but guaranteeing you won’t be there for them as they age and have children of their own.

Ditto for smoking. Ditto for drug and alcohol abuse. Ditto for anything you don’t want your children to do.

Despite all the other things you do for them, you are setting them up to fail. You are harming them.

If you don’t have children and you think there are no compelling reasons to make changes, visit a morgue or cancer center. That will make you see your future in a completely different way.

These things don’t make us bad people; they make us human. And the beauty is, humans are blessed with the ability to change and we are pretty good at it when we are compelled to be.

Go ahead and make those resolutions. You can do it. But, first, ask yourself why and be sure you have a compelling answer.

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