Now For Some Ancient Philosophy

There’s a good chance that at this time of year someone, somewhere is going to ask you your new year’s resolutions.

Love them or hate them, there’s a good chance that at this time of year someone, somewhere is going to ask you what your new year’s resolutions are going to be.

I personally don’t have strong views on whether people should or shouldn’t make resolutions; you could argue it’s a good a time as any to commit to some positive changes in your life.

While at the same time I can understand where the naysayers are coming from as most resolutions, especially those of the get fit and lose weight variety, rarely make it passed the first quarter before a busy schedule and “life” commitments start to take priority again.

The danger here is that people then give up completely under the belief that the “best” time to change anything has passed them by – until next year.

The truth is, there is no “best” time to make resolutions. Agreed, January 1st offers a nice line in the sand but don’t let that be your downfall if it doesn’t work out. Every moment presents a new opportunity to make a change and to choose to do things differently. Now is always and always will be the best time to make a resolution, so if things don’t go to plan the first time don’t wait for next year, choose Now instead.

With all that said, there are a few things to consider when you decide that today is the day things need to change.

For example, most resolutions fail because they are often based on an imagined future self that lives in a world where we magically have fewer commitments, more motivation, less stress and more time. In that world realising our goals is easy, in the real world it doesn’t quite work like that. Part of the problem is that we tend to focus too much on outcomes such as “I want to lose 5kgs”, and we rarely back up these aspirations with a concrete plan of action i.e. what are the behaviours we need to do consistently to lose 5kgs?

This distinction between outcomes and behaviours is vitally important when it comes to our resolutions as change, on any level will ultimately come down to whether we can act and behave differently from the current status quo.

There are lots of great strategies that can help us with behaviour change, many of which are outlined here in this summary video of Chip and Dan Heath’s fantastic book “Switch”.

Perhaps the most important part of change however, is the mindset we take into it. The attitude and beliefs we have underpinning our motivation to change will often be the deciding factor in whether we can act differently when we need to. To help with this I believe we can learn an important lesson from some ancient Stoic philosophy.

The single most important practise in Stoic philosophy is differentiating between what we can change and what we can’t i.e. our thoughts and behaviours vs everything else. If we do our best to practice this mindset when we take on our resolutions (or anything in life for that matter) it can be a very powerful tool in helping us see them through.

To use weight loss as an example, we have very little control over the biochemistry of our bodies and we all differ in the pace at which our bodies will respond to common weight loss practices. We therefore have very little control on the outcome in this situation but we do have control over our thoughts and behaviours while we pursue such an aim. If we focus on consistently performing the behaviours that are more likely to lead to weight loss i.e. eating a diet of appropriate amounts of whole foods, exercising regularly and allowing our bodies to rest and recover, we bring the control factor back in our favour. If we see our consistency as the success rather than any outcome we are more likely to stay on track for the long term and tackle any setbacks with a more rational frame of mind.

Think about your goals and aspirations for 2022, then think about what things are under your control to make them more likely to happen. Do these things consistently, and whether you achieve the goal or not, you will have all the success you need in the journey.