This week I’ve been across the entire country. I started my week in Washington, DC and I’ll finish up in Portland, Oregon. And it’s the new year every where I go.
There are endless lose-weight and get-organized and quit-smoking commercials on every television and radio station in the country. The gyms and the yoga studios and the indoor tracks are packed. There are crates of scales stacked next to crates of Jack LaLanne juicers stacked next to bins of free weights and Slimfast in every Walmart and Costco in every town in America.
We’re six days in now, long enough to realize that keeping up this pace and this level of personal improvement is not going to be easy, long enough for our muscles to be really sore, and long enough for our minds and bodies to start mounting a campaign of revolt.
There is something so hopeful and energizing about a new year and a fresh start. An ever-present upward reach impels us to consider our present state and strive for better, especially because most of us don’t have Calvin’s hubris. Down deep we know there’s a significant need to grow and improve.
So we set goals and make resolutions. But even as we turn over new leaves, there is a doubtful thought nagging at us in the back of our minds… that is, of course, that for most of us, the resolutions we just made are eerily similar to the exact same ones we made last year. We’re not getting very far.
A few years ago, my youngest daughter was diagnosed with an eating disorder. As part of her treatment, she was taught a powerful tool that I think can help many of us as we try to replace our bad habits with good ones and resolve (once and for all!) to achieve our goals. The principle they taught her was “the next right choice.” Her doctors and counselors explained to her that she wasn’t going to be perfect, that she was going to slip up, that the destructive compulsions inside her would most likely show up again in her life. But the one thing that would make the crucial difference in her overall recovery was her ability to make “the next right choice.”
What my daughter’s coaches knew was that sometimes the biggest deterrent to our progress is the sabotage that takes place in our own minds when we make a mistake. The negative self-talk and guilt and berating thoughts can be like a poison to our hopeful new resolutions. It becomes a destructive spiral — we beat ourselves up over a small infraction which leads to the erroneous conclusion that we are incurably defective, which leads to the defeatist question, “So why even try?” The answer is obvious and, at that point, we give in and give up.
The antidote to this spiral is the idea of “the next right choice.” Whatever it is that you failed to do — missed your run, spoke impatiently to your kids, traded your wheat-grass shake for a chocolate brownie — put it behind you and make the next right choice.
Here is a method for doing just that:
1. Quash the self-recriminating thoughts by redirecting your mind back to your goal and visualize the desired outcome as vividly as you can.
2. Then break the long-range goal into a more manageable “first milestone.” Project yourself forward to that milestone moment — a reasonably proximate improvement point — and envision and sense the satisfaction and encouragement even that modest achievement will bring. As you do, you will probably notice a shift in your emotional state. The gnawing knot in your stomach that whispers “Who am I kidding?” will be supplanted with a more calming feeling of “I can do this.”
3. Then, visualize the next moment of choice — the next time for your run, or the next meal, or the next frustrating moment with your children. Visualize yourself making the right choice at that next intersection. I can promise you that, at that moment, you will notice an appreciable increase in confidence and a feeling of well-being will beckon you forward.
Using this approach in “making the next right choice” in conjunction with vivid and positive visualization breaks a destructive mental cycle and will create breakthroughs in your achievement. It creates an immediate course correction and generates a sense of confidence and validation. Best of all, by continually applying this tool, you create cumulative forward progress toward your goals and eliminate the very common, self-defeating, sidetracking discouragement that is the enemy of every good resolution.
Will Durant said, “Forget mistakes. Forget failures. Forget everything except what you’re going to do now and do it. ” Make your resolutions. Make your goals. And then make the next right choice. And the one after that. And you will see remarkable progress toward those lofty personal and professional goals.
I’m interested in your thoughts.