Not Will Power, But Guilt.
Some say it's a matter of will power and that like other forms of
energy, people run out of will power after six months or so of effort. I
do think will power has something to do with this but I don't think it's
the main culprit.
What this is really about, all these New Year's resolutions, is a deep
belief in the American culture that we must pay for our sins. Beginning
mid-October we indulge ourselves in sugar and fattening foods. We become
less active if nothing else because we sit around watching football and
Money flows out of our hands after swiping all those cards and writing
all those checks to pay for fun, food and bigger screened televisions.
It is the season of the great American Saturnalia. The big blowout of
January 1 we have lost the sense of exuberance, fun and joy and with
winter's chill, we dive deep into the cesspool of guilt. Now we must
make up for our excesses and pay penance. It is punishment time. We've
been bad! We stop the fun and start the pain.
Unfortunately, this is largely an unconscious process and therefore
misunderstood. The conscious conversation within ourselves and between
us and others is that we went too far in the last part of the year to
one extreme and now we have to make up for it with resolutions to the
Off we wearily trudge to the gym to make up for two of our sins, gaining
pounds and being inactive. Thirdly, we institute a new regime of
austerity culminating symbolically in opening a Christmas savings
account with a $10 bill. Peanut butter on celery, no more eating out and
certainly no more gifts.
have never seen anything good and sustainable come from guilt. Guilt is
one of the worst motivators for changes in human behavior, especially
positive changes. Guilt is not sustainable and must be continually
renewed if it is to bring about long term behavioral changes. As soon as
we feel guilt we punish ourselves and with penance, ask for restitution.
As soon as restitution comes, guilt is
absolved and we lose the
motivation we had for the new behaviors.
don't start any new behaviors in the first quarter of the year. Stop
feeling guilty. You've done nothing wrong in the last quarter of the
year even though those around you want you to believe that they and you
both have done something horribly guilt producing. Making up for
"excessive bad behavior," such as eating too much with "excessive good
behavior" (eating a lot less) does not lead to sustained lifestyle
changes of eating right. All it does is keep you on the American roller
coaster of living at either/or extremes.
stay pretty anxious with this way of life. Feeling guilty makes us feel
tense and uneasy. Doing penance and punishment doesn't feel any better.
We yearn for a balance point of stable contentment, but don't know how
to do it.
you must change your body, exercise more and spend less money, start
work on only one of those on July 1st, not January 1st. Use a coach to
help you and go at it from a thoughtful, feeling-good-about-yourself
place. Most of all, attempt no changes because you feel bad about
There are some pretty good guidelines for making sustainable changes in
your lifestyle. One place to review those is to read this article; "Be