New Year's Penance and Punishment:

"I've Been Bad!"


It's January and time to be resolved. Some of us make new promises regarding moldy old problems and really do believe we will make new progress on these stale goals.


The three major areas for resolution are to shrink body size, to exercise more and to spend less money. I can tell you what the future holds: despite the best of intentions, by July of this year over half of the resolvers will have failed. Fortunate for me, research backs me up on this.   ive been bad


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 other entertainment.  


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 American excess.


By 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 other extreme.


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.


I 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.


My recommendation: 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.


We 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.


If 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 yourself. 


PS There are some pretty good guidelines for making sustainable changes in your lifestyle. One place to review those is to read this article; "Be It Resolved."



One Beach. Many Ways To Get There.

The American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.


The Mexican replied, "Only a little while."


The American then asked why he didn't stay out longer and catch more fish?


The Mexican said he had enough to support his family's immediate needs.


The American then asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"


The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life."


The American scoffed, "I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise."


The Mexican fisherman asked, "But, how long will this take?"


To which the American replied, "15-20 years."


"But what then?"


The American laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions."


"Millions?" asked the fisherman, "Then what?"


The American said, "Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evening, sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos!"

Take away How you get there is your choice.  Anyway you choose to follow has its blessings and curses.

(Found on the wall of a Jimmy John's restaurant.)


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