It's fair to say that most people reading this will want 2012 to be better than 2011. This isn't necessarily negative nor am I talking recession, gloom and downturn. It's simply in our nature to want to grow and develop – we're designed to want to reach beyond our grasp and make things better.
It's also fair to say most people don't keep their New Year's Resolutions to be better, do more to have more (and again this is in all areas: spiritual, material, relationships etc.)
Obviously, there are reasons for this (and drunkenly promising to love your dog more at 11.59pm is only one of them). The main reason is that on Jan 1st 12:01am you are actually no different to what you were a few minutes ago. (You may, of course, be drunker though.) As a result, by Jan 20th you have probably given up trying to change.
If you want to make real changes you need to sober up and listen. The following sound like self-help platitudes but are actually common sense.
- "To get different results you need to do something different." (Anthony Robbins)
- "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again" (Ben Franklin)
But when it comes to changing YOU then you need a different approach.
Einstein said that "problems cannot be solved at the same level that created them." Where it comes to humans this is more true than he knew.
Our minds are dynamic systems that build themselves through repeatedly jumping to higher levels and creating new ways of thinking using the information from lower levels. Sometimes we energize certain thoughts and they become solidified as beliefs.
These beliefs end up forming (at higher levels) the basis of your perceptions, habits and behaviors – what characterizes you (your character). Their power over your everyday thinking and actions is formidable.
Therefore beliefs, because of their driving influence in these areas, are the place to start designing your New Year's Resolutions. In fact, they are one of the best places to examine before you make any major change. Knowing solves the problem of which area of self-help to start with.
Why? Because belief-change forms the backbone of almost any self-help course of change.
Think of it this way: in 2005 American's read $693 million dollars worth of self-help books and by 2010 the American self-help market was worth $10.9 Billion. That's a lot of reading, listening and learning.
Virtually all of these courses will ask you overtly or implicitly to change your beliefs in order to get new results. This is reasonable.
The problem is they don't usually tell you how.
As a result we often try to change beliefs from a lower level of thinking – using physical effort to alter our behaviors in an attempt to be different.
Our beliefs exist above our everyday level of consciousness and this is why wishing we could change, straining to change and trying to change our behavior doesn't often work. It's like pulling a rubber band and expecting it to stay stretched.
What do you need to do then? You need to learn how to cut the band!
In case you were wondering: Beliefs are formed one of several ways. We gather evidence for something over a period of time and one day decide (from a higher level of thinking ABOUT the evidence) to believe it. Or, we have an experience or a flash or emotion that causes us to pay special neurological attention to a particular idea – and it becomes a belief.
Ironically, the way we do both of these processes have their origin in the simplest of English words: Yes, and No.
What happens when we develop a phobia should help to illustrate my point.
When we have a shocking experience (I knew of someone who saw a bump in someone's neck burst open and baby spiders pour out) then our minds release a massive burst of energy marking that event with a giant neurological NO! Afterwards, we don't have to remind ourselves to feel aversion to that kind of experience – our mind kindly freaks out every time.
Thus the mind has developed a belief that we should not go near that thing – NO!
In the same way, ecstatic experiences (yes, that one as well) give us a massive burst of pleasure energy and create a neurological YES to which we are more likely to respond in the future.
We need both kinds of beliefs.
'No' beliefs (shocking and less so) are necessary for us to set boundaries and help us focus on what our YES beliefs are pointed towards. If you are studying for a course it helps to be able to say YES more to study than to partying. If you want to be faithful then you have to say YES to your spouse and NO to giving in to sexual temptation. And so on.
It is the combination of the things we have said YES and NO to that make up our life. Yes, life is made up fundamentally of what we say YES and NO to. If you don't stand for something (YES) you'll stand for anything because you don't have a strong sense of direction shaped by your beliefs.
The good news is that we can all change even when we feel we can't. Whenever you mentally step back and evaluate your thinking with questions like:
- What belief would I rather hold?
- What do I need to believe in order to be different in this area?
- What beliefs do I think a successful person in this area already holds?
- Does it SERVE me to think this way?
- Do I like the results I am getting?
- Do I want to keep on thinking this way? If I do, what will I be doing in ten years?
So, if you are willing to consider that you need to some new beliefs in order to do something different – what results do you want next year? And what will you need to believe?
William James said:
"To change one's life:
1. Start immediately.
2. Do it flamboyantly.
3. No exceptions."