The Commonly Hollow Resolution: The Hangover Proposal and the Seductive Nature of Failure

     Happy New Year! We have our glasses held high, aspiring into the new year with ideas of how we will change (reinvent ourselves and our shapes and our health and our abundance) and evolve in the coming year for the betterment of our world, internally and externally. The Resolutions we make engage us in a commitment … and that commitment, while built on hope, showcases the reason that any healthy change is difficult.

     The fad-like nature of Resolutions lies not only in how common they are, but how “commonly hollow” they are, lasting days or weeks or not getting off the ground at all. I can see the meme now, “I didn’t get to the gym today! That makes 5 years in a row!

     It is almost a joke in our society and there is a good reason. It’s the reason that any evolution from poor habits to good habits is likely to fail … Making good decisions does not ensure positive results and making bad ones DOES ensure negative consequences. I call the situation that arises from this The Hangover Proposal in my book Coffee for Consciousness 101, and it is born from the addiction we have to believing in the justice of “equal reward for effort.

     We pay five dollars, we get five dollars of goods. We like that.

     Exercise and eat well? We lose weight and look more healthy and attractive.

     We make good disciplined choices, we are happy with the outcome.

     We stop our addictive behavior, our lives get better.

     Seems like a fair list. What if it doesn’t happen though? We have all seen how insane the average person can go when a vending machine eats their dollar, what about when it comes to diet and exercise and giving up vices? What if we give up chocolate and booze and don’t lose any weight?

     What happens is that we become disheartened, and begin to form a new type of relationship with resolutions. The relationship we form slowly shifts our goals from “expressing discipline joyously” to “sabotaging for power.” The Hangover Proposal was something I lived through as an alcoholic throughout my twenties. I tried to get sober many times. I would make deals based on my expectation of what the world should be like, not what the world actually was. I would get sober, and stay sober for days or weeks. Then I would get let down because I still wasn’t happy. My “reward” for not drinking did not come as expected … so I would start drinking again. But it wasn’t exactly failure. I felt powerful. I felt powerful because each time I gave up trying to be happier and healthier, I got something back. I got my false sense of power back. And this is why self-sabotage is so seductive.

     As human beings living in an uncertain world and a body we have limited control over, we have come to value power and certainty more than just about everything else (including health and happiness). What is certain, most times, is STASIS. Keeping things the same takes the least amount of effort, and while we may not be paid for it in richness, we can at least count on it. I could be certain every night I drank that I’d feel like crap in the morning … and the power and certainty I felt from that was so much better than the UNCERTAINTY of TRYING to feel better.

     The real choice is not between “Feeling good and feeling bad” … but between “Maybe feeling good and DEFINITELY feeling bad.” That choice is very different. And the main word to focus on there is not “good” or “bad” …. But “DEFINITELY.”

     We are a culture that LOVES “DEFINITELY.” We love promises and guarantees and equal exchange … but those are myths in a chaotic universe, and even in the chaotic bodies we ride around in. The “DEFINITELY” is so powerfully seductive that we don’t even realize that its presence is the dominating motivational force when we decide to skip the gym or pick up 35 dozen donuts. But the power of being an incensed toddler who finally can destroy his frustrating sandcastle? ... that is the true dominating factor for quitting on attempts to get healthier.

     So what do we do to combat this? How do we get better at resolutions?

     We resolve to commit to “continuous trying.” We’re gonna fail … often. We’re gonna feel guilty. But we’re gonna take away the joy of sabotage, the power of control in destroying our own efforts, and we’re gonna do that by knowing that feeling uncomfortable or failing does not mean we stop trying.

     So whatever effect we are promising ourselves? We’re gonna let that go. We’re going to “eat better and exercise more” … not “Exercise three times a week and eat under 1500 calories.” We are not going to include anything with a let down factor, and focus on the engagement of our effort rather than obeying a restriction.

     My resolution this year: “I'm going to keep trying, every day, all year.”  

     This is how we self-parent ourselves into a deeper engagement with our personal evolution ... by accepting that we "maybe" get the results we are looking for, and by shifting the goal to a "commitment to trying."  This is where our energy will be best served. 

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