It’s New Year’s Eve as I write and I’m sat on the grass in my back yard wearing only a pair of shorts. One of the benefits of living in Los Angeles during a historically long drought is that it’s reliably hot and sunny almost every day. I love living in this city as much as my previous favourite hometown of Sydney, where I lived even closer to the beach and was able to enjoy good weather more days than not.
This same turning time of the calendar last year was very different. My family grew by a quarter in the previous month (meaning deep joy accompanied by deep sleep interruption) and the temperature outside our home in England was somewhere near freezing.
We’d planned to be back in California earlier in 2014 but had our suntan plans put on ice whilst I attempted to finish a book and juggle a workload for which no human could find enough hours in the day. Maybe it was the cold, dark nights or the seemingly endless tapping of a keyboard that influenced me most, but this time last year I found myself doing something I have avoided for many years.
If you’re my wife, you’ll happen to know that I make a lot of choices to remain independent of many social/cultural norms such as celebrating my own birthday or getting caught up in goodwill to all men at a time when we’re encouraged to buy pointless crap, which in all likelihood has been made by slave wage employees in third world countries. Yeah, yeah, bah-humbug.
However last year I succumbed to that traditional strategy for almost guaranteed disappointment, and I made a New Year Resolution – of sorts.
There’s a fascinating (to me at least) pattern that seems to be run by millions of people each year as they spend hard earned money on meaningless stuff, whilst overeating and drinking as if the world was about to be hit by an extinction size meteorite. The strategy seems to go like this: cram in and ramp up the unhealthy and undesirable habits in December so that you can start afresh with ‘good habits’ on the magical January 1st. All the while knowing how long the resolve for good habits are likely to last into the New Year.
My own 2014/15 resolutions were not of the apparently common variety, such as giving up smoking or losing weight, but rather to simplify aspects of my life so that I could enjoy some assumed, predictable benefits such as:
- More focused time with my family, removed from phones and laptops.
- Excess energy rather than feeling in a deficit.
- Applying the extra energy and time to non-work related activities such as climbing, weight training and surfing.
- Appreciation for what is around me, rather than what I’m working towards.
- Getting one or two projects completed really well, rather than many worked on less than optimally.
Simplicity for me meant taking on fewer clients, buying less (in fact next to nothing except for books) stuff for a whole year, and focusing primarily on one work project instead of my usual three to five.
A year later I’m looking at the current consequences of having simplified some aspects of my life and overall I’m satisfied with the results. Even though not all of my assumptions/predictions were accurate, especially the notion that I could isolate and complete projects one at a time, whilst remaining involved with multiple companies and clients as my coaching practice requires.
You will likely know right now that every important relationship you hold involves and demands some degree of daily attention. It’s rarely effective to put aside or cast off whole units of our world in the hope of paying more attention to that which we keep. I attempted to shelve a couple of big projects I had started in 2014, only to later find I had even more work mounting up as they gathered dust.
Like many millions of other resolution makers I failed to achieve the outcome I was looking for, because I ended up creating more work-load when I finally got back to work on the deferred projects.
However what I succeeded at in 2015 was matching a majority of my daily actions and behaviours, with the intentions I had for wanting to simplify in the first place.
Driving most of our actions and behaviours are felt, unconscious intentions for which we will often move mountains to achieve.
We know these intentions by the experience of what we feel. For example, in the case of a person who wants to lose weight in the New Year, he or she might desire to feel more confident and attractive (or whatever is specific to that individual). However if that person goes about losing weight by engaging in an activity that supports the feeling of being un-confident and un-attractive (maybe running/crawling through the streets with buckets of sweat dripping down his or her body), it’s highly unlikely that they will stick to the activity for long. Add to which, if an individual’s desire to become more confident can be achieved by drinking a few gallons of alcohol (the old Dutch courage), he or she is more likely to take that easier option than the hard work of training to create a better body, except this latter option comes with more unwanted consequences.
Rather than setting resolutions at the turning of each calendar year, I propose the benefits of regularly checking with ourselves to appreciate what our intentions that drive our behaviours. You can ask,
‘What do I want to experience as a consequence of the actions and behaviours I’m going to take and will these actions achieve it?’
Most folks will blindly make resolutions at this time of the year without appreciating what those resolutions are really for.
My own 2016 un-resolutions that I started back in early December (just to ensure I wasn’t succumbing too early to a social norm) has been to write for a minimum of an hour every day, regardless of my schedule.
The intention for doing so is to share my work with as many people as I can, as well as ensuring I get daily practice to improve my writing skills.
The act of writing every day achieves these outcomes for me, so my intention and the outcome are aligned.
By having an appreciation for the intention of our actions, we can generate more choice in how we go about getting what we want.
For my intention to share my work, there are many other ways to do so. I could record audio and video. I could organize more speaking events and I could even get someone else to write for me. Improving my writing skills could be achieved by attending a class, reading more esteemed works of literature or simply following a writing course at home for 30 minutes each day instead of an hour.
The point here is that there always multiple ways to achieve an outcome if we know what we really want that outcome for.
I encourage you to apply this intention/consequence pattern to all of your behaviours and desired outcomes in 2016. It will likely save you a lot of time and wasted efforts on pointless resolutions or laudable yet ineffective ways of getting the results you want.
With edits, this blog took an hour or so of writing. Just in time to keep my resolution as the clocks strike 2016.
The Intention/Consequence Pattern:
Ask: What is my intention behind X behaviour?
Ask: What consequences (positive and negative) do I experience as a result of the current behaviour?
Explore: What are three alternative behaviours or actions (other than the present behaviour) that will satisfy this intention without the negative consequences?