The road to hell is paved with self improvement

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Diethell

If you are like me, right now you are sitting back and thinking about all the great things you are going to accomplish in 2008.  Goals like:

  • I will wipe out 50% of my debt
  • I will take the "shake out of my fries," by losing weight
  • I will finally quit my job and start my own business
  • I will pay more attention to my husband, to bring back some of the excitement from our dating years
  • I will publish my book
  • I will feed my kids only organic, home-cooked meals
Let me offer an alternative:  Forget your resolutions.  Instead, celebrate the way you are right now, glaring flaws and all.
 
"Heresy," you say, especially coming from someone like me who profits directly from people’s desire to change their lives.
 
Isn’t it downright lazy to not want to set goals?
 
Stay with me. Changing and improving is not the problem, it is the way we go about changing that gets us in trouble and frequently makes the outcome unsuccessful.
 
This hit me as I was planning my exercise schedule for next year.  I have always loved to work out. My problem is getting started with a new exercise routine after a long hiatus.  So I searched for inspiration the same way most people do:  I looked at myself naked in the mirror.
 
I just had a baby three months ago and still have some padding around my middle.  My thighs are more jiggly than normal, and my upper arms have the beginning of turkey waddle flaps.  But as I looked at myself, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t work up the sense of loathing that normally comes from intense scrutiny in the mirror.
 
I started to think that something was really wrong with me since I was not disgusted by my current physical state.  All I felt was love and gratitude for the body that carried my baby girl for nine months.  And the jiggly thighs and turkey flaps were the result of eating sweet snacks while staring at the computer screen doing what I love the most:  writing. 
 
Isn’t that interesting?  Current practice tells us that we must be dissatisfied with where we are now in order to make improvements.
 
But what I have found is quite the opposite.  You have to be satisfied with yourself as you are now in order to truly appreciate the change in the future.
 
When I was 25, I had a set of abs that put David Beckham to shame, and arms that rivaled Linda Hamilton in Terminator.  My glutes were so strong they could crack a walnut shell.  But inside, I was an emotional disaster.  I guess it is true what they say:  youth is wasted on the young.   
 
When you start the goal-setting process by appreciating where you are now, you set in motion a very natural reaction:  your external world, evidenced by the shape of your body, your bank account, your home, career and personal relationships wants to mirror the beauty you have inside.
 
Sounds good – how do I do it?
 
Here is a simple way to cut off the "my life will be better when …" New Year’s resolution hell and set yourself up for success:

Answer these questions:
  1. If your resolution involves a romantic relationship
    What lesson are you thankful for from the person (or people) who broke your heart?
  2. If your resolution involves money
    What deep appreciation have you gained from your financial struggles?
  3. If your resolution involves health or weight
    What do you appreciate about your flabby body?
  4. If your resolution involves career
    What do you value most about the job you hate?
  5. If your resolution involves personal relationships
    What do you appreciate about a child, or a friend, that gives you endless challenge?

Or to boil it down, you could ask the question my friend, Brooke Castillo, asks her coaching clients: 

 
What is perfect about your problem?
 
This simple question can melt away decades of resentment built on your shame of not being good enough.  Coming from a place of joy and serenity, you are much more likely to achieve your goals and feel good when you get there.
 
I would really, really, really love to hear your answers to these questions.  Make them anonymous if it is more comfortable.  I guarantee that your answers will help someone else. 

22 Responses to “The road to hell is paved with self improvement”

  1. Jael says:

    I Like this. Instead of being disappointed that it rained and we couldn’t paint the house, I’m ecstatic that it rained after we had only one small portion done. That way we could see what color we were going to paint it- which turned out to be a sickening color of blue.

  2. Dan says:

    For setting and tracking your oals, you can use Gtdagenda.

    You can then break them up in smaller manageable units like projects and tasks.

  3. Personal Goal Setting Starts With A Person – You

    It seems that most goal-setting articles start off talking about how difficult it is to lay down goals and follow through them. For a nation obsessed with diets and get rich quick schemes, goal-setting seems to be a harsh discipline

  4. These are all great questions to ask when contemplating resolutions and goals, if you’re into that sort of thing!

    I’m actually a big fan of Stephen Shapiro’s concept of using a Compass, not a Map when planning your future. This allows a lot more flexibility and nimbleness in determining actions. You can read more about this concept here:
    http://www.blog.neverthesamerivertwice.com/2008/01/02/having-goals-will-make-you-blind/
    or at http://www.stephenshapiro.com

  5. Pamela Slim says:

    Thanks so much for your comments everyone!!! It is great to read them and gives me lots of encouragement to keep going through my own doubts and fears.

    My answers:

    Appreciate about failed romance:

    I know that I am worthy of being loved, and don’t need anyone to validate my worth. A relationship is a bonus, not a reason for living.

    Appreciate about financial struggles:

    I do not enjoy finance. I am not naturally skilled at it. But I absolutely want to do things the right way. So I surround myself with people who are skilled, knowledgeable and will handle this part of my business.

    Appreciate about flabby body:

    It carried my children, and walks me through a life I love each day. It is WORTH taking care of, because I want to be here for the long haul.

    Appreciate about the job I hated:

    I knew this was not work I was cut out do to. It pushed me quicker towards work that is energizing, impactful and inherently fulfilling

    Appreciate about struggle with personal relationships:

    This is the best way to push myself to grow. As my two year old challenges me, I try to stay in my best frame of mind. If I don’t do things perfectly, I laugh and move on. I learn what I stand for, and what is really important.

    Doing an exercise like this really does make me feel better. I hope it does for you too!

  6. Kelly says:

    What is perfect about my problem is that I know no one will make me happy but me. I’d call it Cinderella on acid, but I’ve never done acid.

    The greatest threat to the world is an independent woman.

  7. Aaron says:

    What lesson are you thankful for from the person (or people) who broke your heart?
    ——————
    In July of 2007, my wife decided to end our 10 year marriage. This choice has wreaked chaos and destruction in my life as this is the only woman I have every really wanted and loved (and still do). However, the result of this I have stronger ties with my family and friends. I stopped drinking Pepsi, started working out, and dropped 30 pounds. I was forced to face all the demons that have lingered inside me, and though I have by no means destroyed them, the process has started. 2008 will be about picking up the pieces of my life and rebuilding.
    ——————
    What deep appreciation have you gained from your financial struggles?
    I appreciate the struggles with finances over the past 10 years because I have learned self-control (mostly) and the benefits of planning when to buy stuff. My car is now paid off, my credit cards are small, and I have no student loans. I appreciate how it feels to feel this free. My car should last me several more years, and even though it’s not perfect, the financial freedom is more important than power windows, a better stereo or cruise control (oh, but I miss cruise control!).
    ——————
    What do you appreciate about your flabby body?
    This one is a toughy for me, because when I look in the mirror, I cringe. However, in the process of writing this, I see for the first time in my life, something I like. I see the framework for something better. Like how a carver sees a block of ugly stone. He sees past the ugliness and sees the potential. A little muscle there, a little less fat there, and I might actually be proud of my body. 10 minutes ago, I couldn’t see that potential. Thank you Pamela.
    ——————
    What do you value most about the job you hate?
    I love my job and so there isn’t much to resolve other than just getting better at it. However, my last job was a nightmare, and the think the thing I valued most about that job is I learned how not to be afraid of getting fired. I used to think that getting fired was the worst thing that could happen. It’s not. I also learned that some environments bring out the worst in people, and that is what that environment did. When that starts to happen, you can’t be afraid to jump ship. Some jobs/bosses just suck, and you can’t be afraid to bail if it’s affecting your life in a significant way. And mind you, you still should try to make things better first. But if you have tried your best to make it work, and you’re still just sinking, jump! (And don’t forget to jump for something higher).
    ——————
    What do you appreciate about a child, or a friend, that gives you endless challenge?
    At this point, there isn’t any real challenging relationships outside the shattered marriage and my own shattered self image, so I’ll pass on this one. 🙂

  8. You are so right!!!! I find it much more pleasant and motivating to work on positive goals from a place of gratitude and appreciation of what you have now. You don’t have to hate where you are now or hit rock bottom. You just have to know what you want…and REALLY want it!
    I appreciate my body more at 48 than I did when I was twenty!Thanks for the great post!: )

  9. Jon Bianco says:

    Pam,

    Always thankful for your timely insight and perspective. Your posts always motivate me to never giving up on my dream to escape from “Cubicle Nation”.

    Happy new Year.

  10. Scott Ellis says:

    Pam,

    Very insightful post for the new year (and a happy one to you all). I couldn’t agree more that we need to be happy with ourselves if we are to be truly successful at whatever we do. Keeping things in perspective is also an important step to that happiness. I still think of it as “leveraging our strengths” rather than focusing so hard on the chinks in our armor; as cliche’ as that might sound.

    Another thought for happiness in the new year: Be decisive. Weigh your options, take the lessons you have learned into consideration then make a decision and go with it. From there adjust as you need to. Having choices is wonderful but if we don’t make a decision when with faced with options those decisions will often get made for us and will typically end up opposite of the option we most would have preferred.

  11. Single biggest thing holding me back? Fear, closely followed by self-judgment. Well, they may be reversed or tied. Either way, the first gets in the way of courage, and the second in the way of happiness. Big, big questions.

  12. Fabulous post, Pam! It’s wonderful to see someone else out there advocating this approach! (It’s what we teach at SmartStart too!)

    I agree with you 100%: the fastest path to success is to embrace where you are now and practice loving “what is”.

    Your family video was wonderful too — thanks for sharing!

    All the best in 2008! I can’t wait for your next post.

    Linda M. Lopeke
    http://www.smartstartcoach.com
    http://www.smartstartgiving.com

  13. Pam,

    Personally, I have always boo-hooed the News Years Resolution thing. Traditionally, I view New Years day as simply another day – the year demarcation being fairly meaningless. Make your resolutions on a day by day basis.

    However, in a year that has seen some significant “opportunities” for personal introspection and growth, this year I did mark the change with a more defined goal-setting. I still don’t use the resolution word – but I did define some concrete goals…

    http://blogs.ittoolbox.com/pm/career/archives/my-first-real-new-year-goal-setting-ever-21494

    Matt

  14. Glenda Sladen, Always Organised says:

    Dear Pamela

    Thank you for the wise advice. I shall use it myself with my professional organising business clients here in Sydney. I really need to keep letting them know how well they’re doing RIGHT NOW!!

    Instead, I tend to focus on “That’s great, but are you …..” and I’m always telling them what they could do better or next! Ouch!!!

    You still need to focus on what’s coming next, but the whole tenor of my interchnges needs to be far more celebratory.

    Thanks.

  15. Rae says:

    Thank you, Pam. The better New Year to you and yours.

    What do I value most about the job I hate?

    That I have to do the details, create the answers, think from vague idea right through to the sequel and consequences – and adjust accordingly.

    And think fast and flexibly around someone who will not complete their part on time, or provide vital input. I have to put myself in someone else’s mindset to get an approximation that will work. (Which is great for someone as egocentric as I am!!!)

    Salutary – and useful, even if not glamorous. ;-D

  16. Kacy says:

    My response to one of your questions…
    If your resolution involves money: What deep appreciation have you gained from your financial struggles?

    I have gained a new sense of value for money. It no longer is the most important thing on my brain. Although I worry about my debt sometimes, I have done a good job of keeping it all in perspective and not allowed it to overtake my brain. I feel this was a good lesson in learning how to deal with other stressful situations. I’m grateful that I’ve gained new mentors on money management. I’m very thankful I’ve been given books on how to better manage my money and time. This has made me a better person. And I know once I become wealthy, there won’t be a day I take for granted simply because I’ve been at the other end and know what it’s like to truly struggle.

  17. Tina says:

    Too funny, I was just thinking about resolutions this morning. Got up and was like ‘oh yea, its new years… what should my resolutions be for the year? hmmm’.

    Then realized I don’t have any really, my plan for 2008 is pretty well set. I have some bigger goals in place that would be there regardless of new years or otherwise. And overall my life is really great… i’m where I want to be and enjoying it, so why try to add more on the pile? The natural flow of my life will continue regardless.

    So count me in on the no resolutions plan!

  18. George Appiah says:

    Hello Pam,

    Thanks a lot for this timely advice.

    Personally I find the whole idea of waiting till a new year or any specific time to decide to act on an issue to be a very dumb one.

    Like my mum used to tell us back then whenever we put off a task… “treat your assignment like it’s your beard on fire: put off the fire NOW, else there’ll be no lips left for those fine girls at school to line up to kiss”

    [Needless to say, the girls never lined up back then, and never have… yet 🙂 ]

    Thanks once again for your writings and podcasts. They’ve been such a great companion to me in the past 18 months that I’ve been confined to bed in the hospital.

    And Happy New Year from Accra, Ghana.

  19. Pam – This is a great post – thanks for sharing it. And I completley agree with using questions to help you think about resolution/goal setting. I’ve created a tool that could be a nice adjunct to your questions. It is explained further here http://remarkableleadership.wordpress.com/2007/12/31/create-remarkable-resolutions/ – and there is a link to download the tool with 26 questions as well.

    Thanks again for a great post!

    Kevin Eikenberry

  20. Dave Harned says:

    Hi Pam,

    Happy New Year! Thanks for the perspective. One of the big things on my mind as the year ends is how unhappy I’ve been in my job. But stepping back and looking at it, it’s a really nice company to work for. My major issue is that my day-to-day is pretty mundane, and I don’t feel like I have a lot of opportunities to show off the greater value that I have and want to contribute.

    Having written that out just now has given my ‘career resolution’ a bit more focus! Thanks for doing what you do and have a splendid new year.

  21. Pam,
    Thank you for releasing us from the strangle hold of resolutions based in not being good enough the way we are. Hard to let go of that model, but how much happier I will be when I achieve it.

    My gift from a start-up that is going slower than I would like from an economic standpoint, is it has required me to stand firmer in my conviction that I am doing something that is contributing to the the world in other ways. It has called forth a deeper faith in my pathway and in my own worth. With less outside validation, it has had to come from within. On good days that is….I still have those darker days of wondering.

    Thanks for reminding me how emotionally miserable I was in the days of the hot body. Chunky and emotionally sane is way better.

  22. Elle says:

    Pam – You are so right . It is much easier to achieve things when you appreciate and feel good about yourself:) In fact, I believe goal setting is more about the intention than the doing. . . . by that I mean when you acknowledge yourself for the positives, you will feel better and automatically do more that will move you towards your goals.

    I will be back with an answer to #5!!!

    Happy New Year to all!

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