Setting Ourselves Up for Real Change In the New Year - Part 1: Addressing our Failure Baggage
It's coming. The New Year excitement and/or dread when we look at our lives and think, is this where I want to be? What do I want out of life? (What can I have out of life?) What are my goals in the new year? Should I restart my initiatives to be more healthy, improve financial health, find community, deepen my faith, begin a new career, invest in existing relationships or create new ones?
I say excitement and/or dread because for many of us, the idea of change has a lot baggage attached. Rather than focus on the possibility, we focus on the past failures. Maybe there is a lingering sense of disappointment or shame from goals never achieved year after year. Or maybe it is full blow resentment and anger at the world for not supporting your dreams and at yourself for believing it was possible. I can relate.
My Struggle with Big Dreams & Goals
For several years I invested my heart and soul into creating big goals. I had hope and enthusiasm in spades, yet the initiatives never got off the ground. I tried everything I could think of. I hired a success mentor for 12 weeks. I bought life planning workbooks and filled them in. I read multiple books on purpose. I journaled for 8 hours straight based off of prompts in life purpose books thinking a purpose would solve my woes. I used super suave planners that were all about tracking goals. None of these things helped me create the results I was looking for.
Then I got bitter. I thought the people who preached big dreams and big success got their success by selling hope to the naive (aka me). For a couple of years I vowed to not dream at all. I vowed to just let life decide for me because it felt like life was doing that any way. Kinda sad, but perhaps relatable?
So let's unwind this a bit. Is change possible? Is success real? How can we put our past in perspective? How can we let go of our baggage, be open to dreaming, open to new possibilities, and set ourselves up for real change - not false hope?
Creating change is like piloting an airplane. You need to get to the airport. You need to know where you're heading. You need a clear runway. You need commitment and energy to get the plane off the ground. Then you need to maintain your heading, course correct as needed and keep going until you get there. I want to really dive into each of these steps because the steps are simple, but our primal brains are really good at tripping us up during the process. Let's outsmart our primal brains and create change next year.
Step 1: Getting to the Airport (Dealing with the Past)
Before I talk about getting to the airport, let's address the big elephant in the room. Is change possible for YOU? It's easy to think that change is possible for others, but not ourselves. The answer is yes. Absolutely. Change is not complicated. It's about leveraging what you can control, navigating what you can't control, and knowing the difference between the two. What tends to happen is that we discredit what we can control and fixate on what we can't control. It also brings up past issues that we need to address to free up the space and energy to get our plane off the ground. I'll address dealing with these over the next few articles but for now, trust that change for you is possible.
Now that we can believe that change is possible, how do we get ourselves to the airport? What I mean is how can we show up to the process of change with openness and objectivity so we are at a solid starting place? It's going to be really hard to initiate change with a bunch of resentment and resistance. It's actually a mean thing to do to ourselves.
To prepare for change we need to look at each hurt, resentment, doubt, limiting story or belief we are harboring when it comes to dreams, hope, goals, possibilities, and change. Each of these requires reflection and a new perspective based in kindness, understanding, and acceptance (not superficial positivity) that allows us to let go of any emotional charge. Showing up to the airport is about taking time to make peace with our past so we are free to move forward. This is where coaches spend a good chunk of their time - helping people understand and let go of the past.Let's use me as an example.
Previously, I felt a lot of hurt and bitterness from past initiatives of chasing dreams. The story I used to tell myself is that I dared to believe in big, bold, beautiful things (creating purpose-driven companies, making lots of money, being nationally recognized) and ended up with only disappointment. None of my dreams were realized and it wasn't for lack of trying. I put in a ton of effort.
But let's look deeper. First, how intrinsic were my dreams? Making lots of money for the sake of money and being nationally recognized seem to be chasing the wrong things. Why did I want the money? Why did I want the national recognition? What was I really seaking? Security? Validation? The goals were about performance or fear, not excellence which is a non-starter.
Next, when I look at how I felt as I was pursuing the goals, it was as if I didn't like myself. I set pie-in-the-sky, hard-to-obtain goals as a combination of self-punishment and hope that I could earn my own love. In other words, my goal was never about the goal, it was about proving worth. This is another factor as to why I didn't achieve my goal. I never wanted it. I wanted the feeling I'd get by earning the goal: my own self respect.
Now let's analyze how I structured my goals. There's an all-or-nothing thought process in there. See it? Success was either achieving a big beautiful thing, exactly as I dreamed it, or it was a complete failure. My mindset didn't allowed for recognition of progress or other versions of success. The target was super narrow. And although I was excited and inspired, there was an implicit burden just from my perspective. It was do or die. When you burden airplanes with stress, it's harder to get them off the ground.
This type of thinking is perfectionism at work. Perfectionism says if I'm perfect, if I have all the right answers and do all the right things all the time, I'm safe. It's a super simplistic, unrealistic, survival strategy. If I reach my perfect dream, I'm worthy, I'm safe, I'm good. Otherwise, it's all crap and I'm crap - oh, and it's my fault that I failed.
It seems silly now, but I used to think my outcomes were 100% the result of my actions. If I had a bad outcome, it was my fault. I should have known or done better. It's one thing to have ownership. It's another thing to take everything personally. The reality is we don't control everything in the world (shocking). Sometimes - a lot of times - things just happen and it has nothing to do with who we are or what we did.
Now seeing my goal experiences from this angle, is it any wonder why, after a few years of trying this approach, that dreaming wasn't fun for me? It makes sense, and that's my point. Showing up to the airport is not about making our ugly past prettier. It's about understanding our past so we see it was never ugly to begin with. It was just us operating with limited awareness, doing our best until we knew better. It's about giving ourselves grace so we can begin again.
Part 1 Summary
Our past baggage has treasures in it if we look. Before we can approach change, approach launching our airplane into a new blue sky, we need to let go of the thoughts and feelings that hold us back.
When you think about goals now, what comes up? What does anger, resentment, resistance, frustration, overwhelm, pain have to say to you? What if you took the time to listen to yourself rather than avoid these feelings? What if these feelings are really trying to help you?
After addressing past feelings, what kind of goals were you chasing? Why were you chasing them? Were they intrinsic or fear-based? What kind of perspective did you approach the goals with? How did that perspective help or hinder you? What can you learn from your past experiences that can set you up for success this time?
Before we even dream about the future, we need to empty our baggage from the past; we need to lighten the load so we can move forward without things weighing us down and keeping us stuck. It takes awareness, acceptance (dropping guilt and shame), and grace. We all learn things in our own time. We did the best we could in those moments knowing what we knew. Now we have more awareness and can try it again.
Next week, I'll talk about dreams and goals - how to figure out what it is you really want, how to create purpose-driven goals, core goals, and mastery goals rather than fear-based or performance-based goals. Until then...