I used to do my New Year’s Resolutions with great gusto. I recall a list of more than 50 resolutions when I was a teenager covering everything from how I would take more care with various aspects of my appearance to how I would stop myself putting my foot in it to how I would be more like other people and less of a weirdo.
I may have refined the technique in my 30s but I would still make a few commitments to myself about how the year would be the year when I finally x, y, zed myself closer to perfection.
Then there were the anti-resolutions years. In my 40s I thought it would be fun to make resolutions that went against the norm — drink more alcohol, eat whatever I want, be more rude to people calling me up to tell me about PPI.
I could no more keep those resolutions than the ones I set myself in my teenage years.
There’s nothing wrong with change. I should say not! Change is my business. I coach ambitious people who are fed up of sacrificing their soul for their work but still believe in what they do and their capacity to make a difference. And my life is about to change in a major way in 2018 when I sell my house and take my daughter, my dogs and my business on the road. You might say I’d be the perfect candidate for a big New Year’s Resolutions campaign.
But change in you — sustainable change that delivers different results for you — doesn’t happen like that. It isn’t a big show. It isn’t a moment where you decide everything is going to change. There may well be a catalytic event that propels you in to change or that marks the start of a new phase (starting a new job, moving to a new country, having a baby, giving up smoking) but these are event in your life, they aren’t changes in you.
Changes in you happen over time and in ways you have not predicted at the “start” of your journey. That’s why making a change is only the start of the journey towards things actually being different. It isn’t the end.
So if you’re serious about wanting different results for yourself this year, how do you go about it without making a long list of resolutions?
- Make an external change
This might sound like a resolution but the energy is different. You’re going to take a bold action but you’re not going to expect that bold action to change anything except external circumstances.
My decision to home school my daughter had a definite start date — the day everyone else went back to school and she didn’t. But while there were changes in our daily routine as a result the real changes have been more fundamental and have crept up on us. Re-thinking education, our relationship, how I spend my time, how I work, how we as a society work, what really matters, becoming more and more aware of being in the present (and when I’m not)…these are the real changes and they didn’t happen in the first week of September.
“What you’re really looking for is the change in you that starting or stopping is meant to accomplish”
2. Remember that making external changes hasn’t really changed anything
Change is an evolution not a resolution. You may intentionally decide to start something or stop something but what you’re really looking for is the change in you that starting or stopping is meant to accomplish. And this doesn’t happen on the 1st of January.
That’s why most people give up on their resolutions. They think the behaviour change or the change of circumstances is the change and that everything else will inevitably follow. We see it in business all the time — hire new talent to fix a problem, restructure the team to fix a problem, change office layout to fix a problem, announce a new set of values to fix a problem.
But the problem isn’t fixed.
Change happens at a deep level over time without you often noticing and without anyone really being able to predict the nature of the change.
By all means make external changes. When I really started focusing on living in the present I realised that the present I had wasn’t the present I wanted to live in! If I’m going to be here now I wanted now to be better than this. Hence our decision to shake up life in such a major way. But realise that changing externals won’t change anything unless you’re willing to unpick how you see things — how you see the world, how you see society’s rules, how you see others, how you see yourself.
3. Notice tensions that these external changes create between how you have seen the world and how you now have to see the world for those changes to work
When you change something external you cause a tension. You used to eat fried egg and sausage from breakfast. Now you’re going to eat avocado on toast. You’ll notice tensions bubbling up. Maybe you start to resent the old foods being denied to you. Maybe you don’t get the same satiated feeling after your new breakfast. Maybe you feel resentful that other people can eat what they like. Maybe you love the new breakfast and notice you’ve got more energy which causes you to notice how sedintary your life has become.
By making an external change you’ve caused a ripple in the universe. You can’t continue to believe what you believed before you made the change whilst still maintaining the change.
If you move to a new country for work you can’t stay the same person and not allow the change to change you. Well, you can, but you’ll struggle to make a success of the change. You’ll notice that unless you allow yourself to change, the tensions between yourself and the new scenario become too great and something has to give. Normally that means giving up on the external change OR continuing but being unhappy.
Only if you notice the tensions the new situation have created and then allow yourself to let go of beliefs, assumptions and ego attachments, will you be able to settle in to the new reality.
In my home ed journey so far I’ve had to let go of a great deal of structure. I cannot work a normal 8 hour day. I cannot keep weekends work-free because I’ve often had work-free days of the week. I cannot keep evenings work-free for the same reason. If my daughter wants to talk about dinosaurs at 9pm I have to allow that to happen. I can’t make her want to talk about it at 3pm just because I like watching TV at 9pm. And if she is busy at 3pm with her own studies, I can go and write an article. We negotiate everything in a way I didn’t have to do when she was at school.
Doing this means letting go of a belief that weekends are for play and weekdays are for work. It means letting go of a belief I had that I cannot jump from parenting to working and back to parenting. It means letting go of the idea that learning takes place during the hours of sunlight and that my evenings should be uninterupted TV viewing. It means letting go of the illusion I operated by before that I had control over my time…that I had control of anything in fact. This has been the big one. Flowing in and out of activites has become more appropriate than having firm structures in place. Getting used to that is tougher than anything else related to home education.
For change to work you have to let go of old beliefs. Otherwise your whole adventure will become an unhappy toleration.
4. Allow yourself to change your perspectives
The end result is that you will change your perspectives. If you don’t you will revert back to what is comfortable within your old paradigm. In order to change my hair colour from dyed black to its natural silver (something I did a couple of years ago and which may have triggered a series of increasingly radical changes since!) I had to let go of the idea that being young was an asset. I had to embrace aging. I’d been enjoying looking younger than my age for years, getting a boost to my ego everytime someone was surprised at my advancing years.
No one is surprised by my age now. I look it. If I hadn’t allowed myself to rethink my attitudes towards aging, and specifically to myself as an older person, I would have reached for the hair dye months ago.
“You’re not just listening to convince others to change but you’re listening so that you might be influenced”.
Look for beliefs, perspectives, assumptions and ego attachments that will undermine the change you want to make and allow yourself to change. Being able to change ones mind is one of the primary qualities of a really good listener. You’re not just listening to convince others to change but you’re listening so that you might be influenced. Just as you would listen to other people with this amount of open-mindedness, listen to the signals coming back to you as a result of the ripples you’ve made through your bold action…and then allow your views to change. You’ll be surprised at how many beliefs you have that are keeping you stuck…and how liberating it is to let them go.
I hope that 2018 is an amazing year for you, full of adventure and fun and making a difference. And I hope that as you reflect this time next year on what’s changed, you find yourself unrecognisable in as many ways as possible!
Blaire Palmer is a coach and speaker who believes work can be meaningful and that business can be a force for good in the world.
You can listen to her Punks in Suits podcast on iTunes and follow her journey on Instagram @punksinsuits