Happy 2016. January is the time when we often make New Year’s resolutions about eating less, getting more exercise, reading more, decreasing stress, volunteering more, spending less, being more intentional, being less judgmental. And yet, if previous years are any indication, in a few weeks we will be slipping back into our old behaviors. Why is it? We were very serious about wanting all of those changes, how is it that we could let go of the resolve so easily?
As I was reading this week’s Torah portion, I got some insight into these questions. The portion tells of the seventh, eighth, and ninth plagues that God brings down on Egypt – hail, locusts, and darkness. And Pharaoh still can’t let go of the Israelites. Clearly, there were negative consequences for him hanging on to them that should have been sufficient incentives for him to let go, but his attempts were short-lived and he slipped back into his old ways. Like many of us with very good reasons to follow through on our resolutions, Pharaoh also had a hard time keeping them.
The text says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, what is our excuse? Some of us have an “immunity to change”. Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey have a recipe to help us overcome this in their book by the same title. They say that it isn’t enough to just have a goal that makes sense, but that one has to really, really want to accomplish it. One needs to want it at a gut level and have the guts to stick with it in order to let go of what might be standing in the way and to overcome what one fears about the change. One also needs to have the head and the heart working together. Sometimes we choose resolutions because we think should – like we should get more exercise – it makes sense for our health, for our weight, etc. but there is something in our heart that is blocking us from it. Perhaps we like our current routine and that would have to change to get more exercise. Perhaps, we don’t truly believe that we can actually accomplish the goal. Twelve step programs add a spiritual element to this list, what I would call inspiration and humility. Letting go of addictions is far more complicated than keeping resolutions and yet there are many elements in common for success.
Whether we are doing more of something or less of something, it will involve letting go of something else in order to change our current behavior or mindset. Making the resolution is clearly the easy part, understanding ourselves well enough and making the plan to overcome any “immunity to change” is essential to having our resolutions last beyond January and become integrated in who we are to become.