What annoys you the most? Something? Someone? You annoying yourself? Harnessing negativity can be a much more potent force toward transformation than positive feelings. We believe in the negative because we notice it more, direct more attention to it, and feel it more deeply. We don't really believe in our wishes coming true because we're not sure what to do to make them happen. That's why structuring resolutions and goals around our pain points can be more effective.
In 2016, I had a resolution to overcome my fear of public speaking. I could have structured that as something positive, such as "become a dazzling public speaker" or "make a room full of people laugh." That would have been intimidating, though, and it would not have been clear to me that I could do it. I focused on how scared I was, how the very thought of giving a speech made me nauseated. It was bad, too. Really bad. The moment I woke up on Wednesday mornings, it would hit me that I was going to my Toastmasters meeting and I would have to speak, and I would have this pit of dread in my stomach. It was hard for me to even walk into the room. Everyone was incredibly kind and supportive, and I couldn't have asked for more from them, but I had to bring my fear with me. My legs shook so hard after my first speech that I could barely walk back to my seat. Everyone said that nobody could tell I was nervous. It took four months before I finally started feeling less bad. LESS BAD. At a certain point in the summer, I realized that I was actually starting to have fun. People told me they loved my speeches. I won a bunch of ribbons. They encouraged me to enter a humorous speech competition, and I came in second place! They pulled me aside and told me I should try standup comedy, and I did it, and I was... fine. Competent really. If I had started the New Year with the resolution: "I will perform live improv comedy in a comedy club in front of an audience" (of fewer than 20 people), there is. No. Freaking. Way. I would ever have followed through. I wanted to overcome my fear, and I beat that fear down with a shovel until it quit twitching. Now, public performance on a small scale is just... a thing I do sometimes.
I used to hate cooking. Then I decided that if an illiterate medieval peasant in a hut could do it, I could. Almost any human being since the dawn of time has been capable of making a pot of soup. I wouldn't even have to make it out of roots and squirrel heads. I decided that I would hate cooking less if I could make stuff taste good. This came about when I read Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers and picked up on the 10,000-hours-to-expertise idea. I thought, "What about 1,000 hours? What would I want to be good at?" Cooking was my answer. It took more like 10 hours to make a difference. I started reading the recipe through all the way to the end before I got started. I learned to do mise en place (getting everything out first). I came up with a rating system for the recipes I tried. Suddenly, everything I made was acceptable, or even awesome. If I had resolved to "make awesome stuff for dinner without a recipe" I would have given up, probably by March.
I finally reached my goal weight after reaching a point of final frustration with myself. I had lost and regained the same 15 pounds at least six times over the years. Sure, I had kept my weight about 7 pounds lower than my top weight, but what I thought of as my goal was still 18 pounds heavier than the "healthy weight for my height." I knew that when I gained weight I would get migraines, and they were coming every few days. My fibromyalgia symptoms were starting to come back. I was having a really bad time with night terrors. I finally snapped and realized I needed to change my strategy. No more trying to keep my weight one pound under a level I knew would lead to escalating pain and misery. I was going to do the research, find my healthy weight, and stay within a couple of pounds of that. It took three months of strict dieting, and I cried, but when I reached my goal, I knew that this had been the real me all along. Three years and counting. No more crying into my ears because if I move a fraction of an inch, it will feel like an axe through my forehead. "Avoid getting a four-day migraine" was a much better motivator for me than "fit in a size zero," although that's how this negative motivator turned out.
Search for your pain point. What's the messiest room of your house? What time of day are you most likely to quarrel with your housemates? (Spouse, kids, pets)? Does the majority of stress in your life come from your job, your commute, your personal environment, your health, your energy level, your finances, or your relationships? Where do you feel the least comfortable or competent? What makes you say NOPE? Dig in and make this image as vivid as you can. Write yourself a few sentences about it. Now, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
Resolutions are about seizing control of your circumstances. You always have the power to make changes. You can pack up and move, you can change jobs, you can quit associating with people, you can change what you read, you can change what you eat and how you act, you can change your default emotional reaction to events, you can change how you speak to people. It can be hard to figure out what to do differently, but that's what a strategic review is for. What do other people in a different story do differently so that they don't have the problem I have? What can I learn from them? How can I annoy myself less?
Make this year the year you finally quit having to deal with the most annoying factor in your life.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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