January. The time for New Year Resolutions. Or not.
It used to be that making resolutions was the fashionable thing to do: Set specific measurable, actionable, relevant, time-based goals and then go and get them done. Simple.
However, the limitations of this rational, almost scientific approach to target setting and goal achievement soon became apparent. There was something missing: namely, emotional connection to the goal.
It was no longer enough to focus on ‘what’ ‘when’ and ‘how’. Asking ‘why’ became the key question. ‘Why’ is this goal, target, and vision important to me?
This has made a huge impact, because the ‘why’ question provides your ‘rocket fuel’ and, as with any rocket, you will only go as far and as fast as your fuel will take you.
This makes perfect sense, and no doubt has added a new gear to the engine of result generation.
However, the world is still full of people who, while clear about what they want and why they want it, still fail to achieve what they set out to achieve.
As a result, the idea of even making New Year’s Resolutions at all has fallen out of fashion.
What’s the point of making them, when they don’t actually work?
However, before we discard them to the dustbin of history, let’s ask a different question: How could we approach resolutions differently, in order to make them more effective? In particular:
What lies beyond the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ questions?
The missing link is the ‘who’ questions.
In particular, ‘who am I currently being?’ and ‘who do I believe I can be in the future?’
The key difference is that these questions have you focus on the present, rather than the future.
If working with individuals and companies over the last 20+ years has taught me anything, it is that human beings (and companies) are far more comfortable talking about the future than they are about being honest about the present.
It is far more comfortable to talk about the vision or desired future state, than it is to talk about the ways of being and behaving that are generating the current state.
Looking at how this plays out with regard to resolutions is very revealing, because it is the word ‘resolution’ itself that demonstrates the impact of adopting this approach.
The word ‘resolution’ often leads people to focus on ‘being resolute’ but that’s not actually from where the world ‘resolution’ derives. Instead, it comes from the Latin word ‘resolvere’.
The word ‘resolution’ consists of two parts: ‘re’ a prefix meaning ‘again’ or ‘back’, and ‘solution’, which can be traced back to the Latin noun, ‘solūtiō’ (“a loosening, solution”), or verb, ‘solvō’ (“I loosen”).
This sets up a very different idea:
While ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions are no doubt important, what is initially critical is to ‘loosen’ the grip of your current ways of being, thinking and acting and to acknowledge the roles that they are playing in your current situation – the one that you want to change.
To develop this level of self-awareness requires both humility and courage.
Once you have loosened the grip of your current mindset, then the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ questions have far more chance to work effectively.
The ‘what’ and the ‘why’ questions rev your engine, but the ‘who’ questions I set out above, operate like a handbrake.
Here is one specific and practical way in which you can apply this thinking right now.
It is a favourite technique of mine that I regularly use in my executive coaching, and it concerns forgiveness.
There are few things that keep people more stuck in their current situation than an unwillingness to forgive.
1.Firstly, be clear on what it means to forgive.
Forgiveness is not about forgetting or pretending that everything that happened was ok.
When you forgive someone, you acknowledge that what happened, happened in the past and that is where you will leave it. You will not refer back to it in any present and future dealings that you may have with the other party or parties involved.
In essence, forgiveness is the willingness to ‘give’ as you gave be-‘for’-e. To ‘for-give’.
Of course, you may also choose not to have any further dealings with the party or parties concerned, but even in that situation, you do not refer back to it in your mind. It is over.
In my experience, this is very different to how most people approach forgiveness, which is to try hard to forget and/or pretend that things are now ‘ok’.
You know when this is the case when things blow up again, and all the buried bitterness and rancour re-surface with double the force and in double-quick time.
Of course, all of this applies just as much to forgiving yourself as it does to forgiving somebody else. Indeed in my experience, the former takes even more courage and humility than the latter.
2.Secondly, make a list that contains the big examples you see in your life where you have forgiven yourself or other people. Be specific. Who was it and what did they do (or not do)?
Then go back to the above definition and be honest.
Have you really forgiven in these situations or are you just pretending and/or trying to forget?
This is where the need for courage and humility begins.
If you now find any situations where you have not truly forgiven, then begin a second list.
3.Thirdly, continue to add to this second list with situations where you are clear that you have not truly forgiven the other people or yourself.
This second list is one of the key handbrakes in your life.
Striving to break free of it by asking ‘what’ you want and ‘why’ you want it want may work, but takes a huge amount of willpower and is generally exhausting.
However, if you want to give these question the best possible opportunity to do their work, then being by asking yourself, ‘who am I currently being’? In this case, am I (honestly) being forgiving?
Do I (honestly) believe that I can become forgiving?
Am I willing to ‘loosen’ my current way of seeing these people/events such that I am willing to forgive that which I currently find unforgiveable?
As the French philosopher Jacques Derrida provocatively stated:
“Yes, there is the unforgivable. Is this not, in truth, the only thing to forgive? The only thing that calls for forgiveness? If one is only prepared to forgive what appears forgivable … then the very idea of forgiveness would disappear”
Which is more important: being unwilling to truly forgive and to hold onto your current way of seeing things, or achieving the goals that you say you want?
The willingness to become forgiving is very often a first step on the road to achieving those resolutions you are tempted to make every January.
The truth can set you free, but only if you are willing to forgive yourself for it
For more examples of the power of the “who” questions pick up a copy of my book “Start With Who”
Managing Partner of The Coach Partnership and The Works Partnership
Author of Start With Who and co-author of Fit to Lead.