Updated: Apr 17
With 2020 around the corner, it’s soon time to
review 2019 and make resolutions for 2020.
Let's do so wisely.
You may have noticed that 2019 is all but over and soon we’ll be bombarded from all directions with hints and tips on how make 2020 our best year ever.
I know. Where did 2019 go? It just seems like a few weeks ago we were making resolutions to make 2019 our best year ever. How’d that go for you?
Did the resolutions stick? Well done! If they didn’t, when did they fall away and you reverted to your old habits? How’s that make you feel to think about it now?
At this time of year – for a variety of reasons – we can feel inspired to make dramatic changes in our lives. People we follow on social media, advertisements on TV, observing traditions and listening to the people around us tell us that making changes is a good thing to do. We’re always in the pursuit of happiness and when we see others living their best lives, we want to emulate their happiness, too.
Truth: The path to happiness is not paved with flat abs, perfect smiles, the latest gadgets or fashion and being all things to everyone all the time.
I don’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions (let’s just call them NYRs from now on) for two reasons:
they don’t work; and
we feel bad about ourselves when we fail.
NYRs don’t work
NYRs can be made in response to cheap and abundant marketing that is designed to sell products that fix the symptoms, not the cause.
Smokers won’t have to wait long to see advertisements about how a product will fight nicotine cravings and kick the habit. This may work, but when stressed or out with friends, they may find themselves with a cigarette between their fingers.
Gyms especially make their money from New Year’s resolutioners who sign on for a membership in early January and then stop going to the gym by February (but don’t stop their monthly debit payments). Sports stores entice you to do the same in early January.
For diplomats, a common NYR is to get a better work/life balance and be home for dinner more often than not. This is great until the first time that we're asked to stay late to get something that needs to be done quickly - and not out of anything urgent, just someone else's lack of planning becoming your emergency. We're torn between maintaining our new boundaries and disappointing ourselves and those waiting for us and risking someone thinking badly of us when we disappoint them.
So why don’t they work? NYRs often rely on our willpower. While we can build our willpower, our willpower is finite.
NYRs can be made rashly and in search of a quick solution. Overindulge during the festive season? A diet is the answer! Quit drinking! Full wardrobes, closets and drawers? Throw out everything that doesn’t spark joy!
We seek to kerb the excesses, deprive ourselves or severely trim the excess from our lives. Drastic actions, severe cuts or losses generally come back as severe rebounds.
We feel bad when we fail
Because our NYRs can largely rely on our willpower, they’re almost bound to fail.
And we hate the thoughts and feelings that come from failing, don’t we? Especially diplomats who may be more accustomed to achieving what they set out to do in life.
We can feel guilty – or worse, ashamed – when we realise that we’ve reverted into old habits. We’re still working long and excessive hours, despite resolving to have a better work/life balance. We find ourselves with a cigarette in our hands when we’re next at a party, stare disbelievingly at the empty pizza box in front of us or wonder how the wardrobes, closets and cupboards throughout our house became so full once more.
We can fail like a failure. Like we’re a failed human. ‘Why bother?’ we ask ourselves. We can tell ourselves the familiar stories that we’ve always told ourselves. We accept that we’re incapable of change and give up.
This is hard work. It’s dispiriting. It’s a lot of things that make us feel crap about ourselves, but it doesn’t have to be like this.
Making lasting change
The antidote to feeling like crap about part of ourselves is not to apply something topically and numb the pain. It’s to get curious, identify the root of the problem and address it.
There is a way to make change last. My friend Alison Earl has written a book on the topic (see link in ‘Resources/further reading’ below), and I highly recommend it.
For me, change requires – and begins with – awareness. Understanding why you smoke, drink, eat, work, shop, gamble, use sex and/or porn, exercise or whatever you use so much of to numb yourself is the first step to making lasting change.
Smoking, for example, is something we can do to be sociable. Logically, we know that the nicotine and other chemicals in tobacco products are harmful for our health, but unless the emotional and social benefits of smoking are addressed, relying on sheer force of will to quit can be doomed to fail. The same can apply to drinking alcohol or coffee – it’s something that is done when we socialise and connect.
Lasting change also requires vulnerability, support and accountability. You need to share your wish to make changes with your tribe – be that in-person or online. It’s my experience that we can be AMAZING supporters of others in our lives, but really struggle to identify and ask for the support you need or want. You get to ask for support: This is not a sign of weakness. Please read that last sentence again. You also need to be held accountable – each day, if need be.
Making lasting changes also requires doing. You can read all the books, blogs and podcasts you want (and there’s some awesome help and assistance in my book, blog and podcast isn’t there?!), but nothing changes unless you do something differently.
Nothing changes until you make some mistakes, assess them, learn from them, correct course and try again.
Yes, you will make mistakes. I’ve been in the business of finding out about myself for a few years now, and the prospect of – and making – mistakes and appearing foolish still makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. Mistakes are a terrifying prospect for many diplomats. Mistakes are seen to equal failure, and – in many of our workplace cultures in which a hyper-competitive culture dominates – we believe that failure is not an option.
Change requires getting comfortable with risk. How do you engage with the risks associated with change in your life? Run to them? From them? Let them happen? Plan for every possible eventuality? Despite living and working in far-flung places around the world, we diplomats can be an extremely risk-averse bunch.
But you don’t get to do any of this alone. Get help. Let others in and let them help you become more awesomely and humanly you.
One final thought
Don’t get me wrong. Resolving to make a change is great. But why do we wait until 1 January? Any day is a great day to make changes that will help you reconnect with yourself and the world around you.
This is my final blog post for 2019. This has been a big year for me personally and professionally. I look forward to supporting diplomats and those living the diplomatic life while I explore other options and living my life in all its imperfect splendour in 2020.
I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for your support through this year. I know that it’s not always easy to engage with my content – especially on social media. I truly value your comments that you send to me. I hear snippets from my audience of how my work is discussed in meetings, seminars and other gatherings – both formal and informal – around the globe. It lets me know that I’m not alone and that my work is helpful to someone, somewhere.
I especially want to thank all those who have written blog posts or generously provided their expertise.
I’d like to thank Georgie Ryan, Simon, Vaughan Carder, Jaqueline Benndorf, Angela Pickett, Kevin Huntting, Katia Vlachos, Alison Earl, Mike Campbell and Dougal Sutherland for their invaluable help and trust in sharing their stories and expertise with me for you. I also want to thank my friends, Joey Thomas and Niall Raeside. Joey has been providing his specialist communications skills on my blog and podcast content, subscriber communications and social media posts. Niall has been a huge help in setting up the financial and business sides of my work.
Biggest thanks go to my wonderful family. It’s been a big year and 2020 promises yet more change. I know that we’ll continue to move forward on a path that is paved by love and kindness and honesty, for we can all do great things from there. Thank you for putting up with slapped-together dinners served late and conversations dominated by me getting what’s been running around in my head out of there and into the world. I love you all.
Stay tuned, there’s so much more to come in January.
Want to know more?
Alison Earl, ‘Tripowerment: The why, the will, and the way of breakthrough change’ (alisonearl.com)
Phil McAuliffe, ‘The Lonely Diplomat: reconnecting with yourself and the world around you’ (amazon.com)
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Important notice: All views expressed above are my own and do not reflect any official position. The words published above are intended to support, challenge and inspire diplomats and those living the diplomatic life as they reconnect with themselves and the world around them. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional.