This post might seem a bit late because the new year has just passed and you already have your resolutions. However, there’s a very good reason for the timing of this injection of truth into your mental diet:
People have already given up on their resolutions or they’re about to.
I don’t want to presume that includes you but you will have no doubt made great promises to change in previous years, only to undo all the good intentions in very short order.
Why is failure to follow through with new year’s resolutions the standard rather than the exception? In short, we’ve been lied to by clever marketers with positive messages that completely ignore science and human experience.
Positive self-help crap is dangerous because it villifies the dark side of human psychology. I spent years avoiding subjects internally and in relationships because they were “negative”. That is, they were emotionally uncomfortable so surely focusing any attention on such things would be harmful right?
Wrong. The avoidance of painful emotions backfires for a number of reasons:
- Burying emotions increases shame, which is the greatest threat to your confidence.
- Acknowledging the negative is the path to resolving internal issues.
- There will be actions you will need to take in order to improve your psychology, relationships and your circumstances. Avoidance virtually guarantees inaction and worsening of problems.
- The “darkness” is more powerful motivator than the positive.
That last point is particularly relevant to the new year because countless people will have set resolutions and goals, usually according to the same old positive self-help mantras: “Focus on the positive”, “dream big”, “experience what it would be like to have your dreams now…”
Follow your anger
The brilliance of anti-resolutions is that you do virtually none of the traditional things when attempting behavioural change. Instead, here is a new blueprint for resolution making:
- Decide what you want to change
- Look backwards at your failed attempts to change in this area. Feel crappy about it.
Researchers have found that the most powerful motivator for change is disgust closely followed by anger. In fact, the anger is a precursor to passion. Passion is equal parts anger and love.
So “do what you love”, “follow your passion” and “follow your bliss” are great and sound good in your typical positive thinking articles, but they’re incomplete because they neglect the other, more powerful side of human psychology — dark emotions.
Set anti-resolutions instead
Anti-resolutions, as I call them, are the opposite of the usual resolutions people halfheartedly set and then give up on in short order. With anti-resolutions you instead set a negative goal – to not change, but instead to become aware that you suck in that area and really feel the suck.
Aim to increase that feeling until you’re so worked up about it that you MUST change.
Anthony Robbins says that if you create enough leverage, you can change anything. Unfortunately, because we’ve been taught the erroneous belief that uncomfortable emotional states are bad, we avoid the very things that will help us change in the most profound way. All emotional states have utility if we listen to them instead of trying to push them away.
Traditional self-help actually hinders your success
The research of Gabriel Oettingen et al, as detailed in Rethinking Positive Thinking supplies further evidence that imagining the successful completion of your goals by itself is a recipe for failure.
The more you envision successful goal achievement the less likely you are to achieve it. Imagining positive outcomes serves to demotivate us because at some level we feel it has been achieved.
Oettingen recommends a technique called mental contrasting that research has shown to be far more effective in helping people achieve their goals. Instead of looking ahead and only feeling great about the future success, mental contrasting also tasks us with acknowledging the internal obstacles we face and then coming up with a simple plan for moving in a different direction when the obstacle arises. The entire process has been coined WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan).
In summary, instead of setting resolutions that you probably already sense you’re going to quit on, anti-resolutions and feel sucky about the areas you’d like to change in. When you feel so much anger and disgust that you MUST change give, then you can give the mental contrasting technique a go.
For more on metal contrasting, check out the WOOP website.