This post covers the second of several non-Method methods.
People often try to improve their lives by changing only their behavior. After doing something one way for a while they resolve to do it differently. This strategy comes from a belief that something rooted in their behavior holds them back from a better life, or at least that changing only their behavior will improve it.
I call this strategy “New Year’s resolutions.” The change in behavior doesn’t have to come over New Year’s. It just has to be based only in behavior. Typically people resolve to eat more healthily, to exercise more, to finally do that thing they’ve meant to do for years, etc. But the change could be anything.
Sometimes changing only your behavior does change your life. Even if insufficient, it may lead to other changes that cumulatively significantly improve your life. Still, this strategy has a couple shortcomings.
First, resolving to change behavior you now do comfortably pits you against yourself. It’s grueling and takes energy and stamina. Some macho types take pride in such efforts, but anyone would rather achieve their goals easily. Even those who like the battle recognize that using scarce resources like energy and time in one place keeps you from using them in others.
Second, when the strategy doesn’t work, its consequences are completely opposite to your goals.
Your emotions motivate your behavior. They do so involuntarily and without conscious effort. To act contrary to your emotions requires willpower. Willpower works great in the short term, but it requires your mental attention and energy. If your emotions motivated you to do the behavior you wanted, you wouldn’t have to resolve to do it, so these changes require willpower working against your emotions.
If you try to do something based on willpower alone and you don’t like the new behavior, eventually the willpower gives out and your emotions win out.
If you are in a room with a piece of chocolate cake long enough, eventually it will get eaten. You may not even decide to eat it. You may just notice, while doing something else, a half-eaten slice with a forkful in your mouth. Or you may think “Oh, what the hell, I’ll eat it. What’s the harm?”
We all know why gyms sell annual memberships. They make their money and are full in January and February, when everyone makes their New Year’s resolutions, but are empty by spring.
The long-term consequences stem from where your emotions come from. They come from your beliefs. When you give up on going to the gym, you reinforce the beliefs that created the emotions motivating what got you out of shape in the first place — exactly the opposite of your original goal. You end up saying and believing things like “I just can’t lose the weight,” “I’m not a morning person,” “I can’t help it,” or the like, reinforcing the beliefs you tried to overcome.
In summary, New Year’s resolutions pit you against yourself, a draining process, and can lead to reinforcing exactly the beliefs and behavior you want to change.