Friday, January 13, 2012

Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy

Yesterday, I set out to write a piece about it being mid-January and how unhappy I was with my progress against my various New Year’s resolutions.  I tend get quite ambitious when it comes to resolutions.  Let me rephrase that, I am quite ambitious and optimistic in the setting of the resolutions.  This year was no different.  I could sum up all my resolutions in one resolution:  Significantly improve in every aspect of my life.  Yes, this includes weight, health, music, writing, business, teaching, etc.

I do not know if most people are so naively ambitious.  My guess is not.  I think people pick one resolution.  As I have blogged on New Year's resolutions before, losing weight and quitting smoking is what most folks focus on.  We are quite excited to set and pronounce our resolutions.  Around this time in the New Year, we get frustrated as we realized “Dang, it is hard to keep true to these resolutions.”  Around this time is when people lose their initial exuberance, the temptations to behave habitually becomes quite strong, and the resolutions lose their resolve.

I was writing about this yesterday.  I fully intended to have posted on the subject.  I did not.  My frustration with not making enough progress was multiplied by my frustration with the whiny drivel I had written.  Yuck.  No one wants to read a pile of wimpy pathetic lamentations.  Heck, Ara Topouzian is amazed anyone ever reads my blogs.  If I had posted that pile of dung, he would have had a field day.   I dropped the topic figuring I just could not get the right perspective from which to write the piece.

Yesterday evening, I was doing some other work.  On a break, I checked my twitter and saw a post from my cousin Jason Ohanian:

Ever feel like you are your own worst enemy? I know I am, but try to work through it and stay positive anyway.

Jason’s words resonated.  Here was my angle!  Besides the angle, it was also a diagnosis of why I was unhappy and frustrated.  Everyone is their own worst enemy.  They are hardest on themselves.  I did not realize how pervasive this was until I managed people.  Most companies have a performance review process where people rate themselves against their objectives for the past year.  I found that most people, like 85% or more, were very tough in rating themselves.  The other 15% were simply delusional.  Until I saw this, I did not realize how tough I was on myself.  

I responded to Jason.  Here is the remainder of the twitter exchange.

me  Dang... it might be a cousin thing. I was feeling exactly this earlier today!
Jason:  Maybe its an Armenian thing? I also think most folks are their own worst enemies.
me: you are absolutely correct... most people are way too hard on themselves.  

The nature of resolutions is to change a habit that is well entrenched.  The habit or pattern of behaviors did not develop overnight or in the blink of an eye.  Yet, we believe that they can be overcome quickly and forthrightly.  I made a decision.  I flipped the switch.  I am resolved.  Problem solved.  Of course, we learn from experience that it is not that easy or we were not serious enough in making the decision.  This causes frustration. Frustration makes you waiver and backslide.  You become even harder on yourself and voila... you are your own worst enemy.

New Year’s resolutions, at least the way I make them, are big and broad.  They are to rid ourselves of longstanding habits and patterns of behavior.  These patterns are well trenched.  While making a firm resolution is good, that is the easiest part.    How many times did I flick away a cigarette and say “That is my last cigarette” until I finally was able to quit.  In my earlier posting on this subject, I quoted Mark Twain who said “Quitting smoking is easy. I've done it a thousand times.”  They say is easy.  The doing is the harder longer haul part of this.

We are a society of instant gratification.  We want everything and we want it quickly.  We want our resolutions to happen in the span of time it takes a CSI team to solve a crime.  It is why people are looking for the miracle weight loss or quite smoking method, pill, or magic wand.  There are no magic wands.

I was in a Barnes and Noble today and downloaded a freebee that they called “Advice to Go.”  It was a short essay by Allyson Lewis, a time management and productivity guru and author.  The download was to entice me to buy her latest book:  The 7 Minute Solution.  I read her little essay.  It was good but I did not buy the book.  She offered seven (she likes that prime number) things one could do to better manage their time.  Two of them applied to the topic at hand here and are worth mentioning:

Good Habits are formed like cow paths:  The habits we are trying to break are, a mentioned above, well worn and well entrenched.  They are like cow paths which are made by the consistent behavior of cows.  If we want to change such a habit, we have to create a new cow path for ourselves.  This means we have to learn a new behavior and consistently repeat that behavior until we have ourselves a new cow path and grass has grown over and hidden the old one.

Micro-actions:  The way we make a new cow path is by the hundreds, maybe thousands, of decisions we make each day.   Take the stairs or the elevator?  Eat a candy bar or an orange?  Smoke a cigarette or chew a piece of gum?  These are the micro-actions Lewis speaks of.  Each one is either a step on the new cow path or the old cow path.

Happy Up:  To quote Allyson Lewis. “Life is better when you are happy.”  This is so obvious that most of us do not get it.  Life is a journey.  Why not be happy and enjoy it while striving and stretching ourselves to improve.  Are we going happily toward a goal of improved health, improved quality of life, and longevity?  Or, are we fighting all the way lamenting and feeling low that we are denying ourselves the cigarettes or high calorie low nutrition foods?  If we choose the latter, we are bound to fail.  
The frustration I have been talking magnifies the unhappiness and together they drive us to fail.  It is about attitude and Jason said that he was trying to stay positive.  Sure we will have our little setbacks.  Let’s be determined and happy about the change we are trying to realize.  Stop being your own worst enemy.  Let’s create that new cow path one positive step at a time.

Thanks Jason!  Thanks Allyson!  I am feeling much less frustrated.

1 comment:

  1. Twice in one month? Are you using me to attract readers? If so, I may need to send you an invoice for 67 Love it, I still read these, so does Hossam Ramzy and Juan! Ja Ja Ja