Q: The New Year is coming up and there are things I want to change. But I’ve disappointed myself too many times with resolutions that didn’t stick. I can’t bear to fail again. How can I make lasting change?
A: Oh my god, me, too! It’s an awful feeling to get results and then backslide into old habits.
It was in life coach training that I finally became really curious about the phenomenon of the chronically unrealized desire: the dress size I could reach but never maintain; the French I never brushed up on; the savings plan I knew I should have but felt immediately behind on.
My best thinking had not helped me. In fact, something about it seemed to be keeping me stuck. So I turned to an example of effortless achievement through non-thinking: babies.
Learning to be a life coach as I was learning to be a mother was a happy combination. Together they have taught me how to approach areas of dissatisfaction in ways that can create lasting change.
Step One: Recognize That You Are Already Perfect.
My teacher, Martha Beck, begins with the premise you are already perfect; it’s the painful, limiting beliefs you hold about yourself and the world that keep you from fully grasping that essential fact and living with freedom and joy. So, rather than helping you to change, life coaching helps you become more you.
Earlier in my life, I might have argued with her (and centuries of Eastern thought) about that. I had so much proof of my own imperfection. But now I had children, whose perfection was obvious, inborn, and – I saw with a mother’s eyes – general to all new life.
So, take a deep breath and look at yourself with a mother’s eyes: Perfection is your natural state. What gets added in this life can obscure that but not ever take it away.
Step Two: What Is Obscuring Your Natural Brightness?
How many times have you heard a mother excuse a crying child on the basis of fatigue or hunger? We know our children are usually happy. If they aren’t, it’s almost always because they are, in the words of my favorite parenting coach, Bonnie Harris, “Having a problem, not being a problem.” Something is obscuring their natural brightness.
Beginning from the premise that you are already perfect and don’t need to change in order to be enough, keep looking at yourself with a mother’s eyes: what is obscuring your brightness? Is it fatigue – of the body, because you aren’t getting enough sleep, or of the spirit, because you are working too much? Is it hunger – of the body, because you are eating too few greens and too many of your child’s leftovers, or of the spirit, because you’ve had too much screen time and not enough nature?
If you think you don’t know, you’re mistaken. Get quiet: breathe deeply; consciously relax your muscles from top to toes; center yourself in your body until you feel your own energy. Now ask: “What is obscuring my brightness? What do I need more of? What do I need less of?”
Step Three: Let Desire Lead
Babies and children don’t know “should.”
I noticed that if I took care of my children’s basic needs for food, sleep, warmth, and love – to be seen with a mother’s eyes – they were happy. When they were happy, their curiosity took over and led them to develop in all the ways humans do. I didn’t have to teach them anything. They learned by watching me and by following their own desire for mastery.
If you let desire lead, it will take you where you want to go. You will act at the right time– when desire prompts, instead of forcing something you aren’t ready for. Desire will give you energy and focus– you won’t have to drag yourself through the motions. It will encourage consistent– rather than surge-and-stall – action. And it will guide your ambition– not too big to overwhelm, not too small to go unnoticed, just right. Observe any child at play and you’ll notice this leads to achievement.
A Note About Coaches.
You may turn to a coach to help you achieve your resolution. (I think everyone should have one). Just remember how it is for the child who turns to a parent for help in the course of achieving mastery. The coach, like the parent, can only guide, they can’t do the work for you. If they do, there’s no achievement and resentment on both sides.
Step Four: Focus on Now.
Children live completely in the now and are only ever motivated by how fun something is. It turns out that approach is the one that fuels longevity.
The New York Times reported a study comparing the effectiveness of different motivations for maintaining exercise habits.
Researchers found that people who focused on the immediate rewards of exercise – feeling good, better mood and focus – were the ones who stuck with it. Those who said they were motivated by vague and future-oriented goals, such as health and weight loss, didn’t.
Don’t imagine this change you’re making will be once and for all. Completion is a painful myth. The nature of life is change. Focus on how it feels to be doing this now, and let the future take care of itself.
Think of all that babies and children manage to learn and do without an ounce self-loathing or willpower. Once their basic needs are met, desire takes over – at just the right time, at just the right pace and with the focus required – and leads them to accomplishment. And the next goal, and the next . . . .
If you want to make some changes and believe you could benefit from coaching support, I have just one opening available. Email me at email@example.com to inquire.