Identify the Why and the How Will Be Easier

New Year's Resolutions are easier to keep if you ask yourself "why?"

Posted Dec 27, 2010

Assistant professor Julia Belyavsky Bayuk is in the department of business administration at the University of Delaware, and her recent research was published in the Journal of Consumer Research. But though she was presumably researching consumer behavior (i.e. saving money), her findings have implications for the success of our annual ritual failure, the New Year's Resolution.

What Bayuk's research found was that when it comes to reaching goals, we're better off keeping our eye on the "why" rather than the "how."

While common wisdom tells us that we should plan the work and work the plan, what this appears to do is narrow our vision to only one route to success--The Plan--blinding us to other possible means to the end.


So, how does that apply to introvert life?

I'd been mulling a New Year's post a while, thinking about resolutions that might be appropriate here. Of course, the overall goal is to live our lives with integrity, to be true to ourselves.

That can come with a lot of sub-resolutions: I resolve not to let others guilt me into doing things they enjoy but that sound like hell to me. I resolve to assert my right to keep my mouth shut when I feel like it. I resolve not to drink myself loud when what I really want is just to go home and be quiet.

OK. So consider Bayuk's research and we'll come at it from another direction. If the "why" is that we want to be true to ourselves, then we have to push back against outside forces that insist we be true to their perception of who we must be. You know: family, friends, even those counterproductive voices in our heads that tell us that our way is wrong.

So keeping our overarching "why" in mind, let's also drill down to some case-by-case whys--persuasive arguments to use with yourself when your resolve weakens. 

Skipping parties you don't want to attend.

Why?

Because parties are supposed to be fun, and if you don't have fun and have no other compelling reason to make an appearance, then there is no point in going.

When you do go to parties, leaving when you want, even if others consider it "too early."

Why?

Because you've had all of that kind of fun you need. Because you've spoken to everyone you want to and feel you've done the job. Because you're sleepy. Because you would prefer not to drink anymore. Because you don't want to witness drunken friends behaving badly.

Letting the phone go to voice mail whenever you want.

Why?

Because you're doing something and don't want to be interrupted. Because you're not in the mood. Because if it's important they'll leave a message, text, or e-mail. Because nobody has the right to disrupt your day.

Staying centered and calm when people try to bully you into being who they think you should be.

Why?

Because they don't know what it's like to be you. Because you don't need anyone's approval to be who you are. Because insisting you be someone you are not is inappropriate, and it's polite to ignore them, just as you would any other social gaffe.

You get the drift. We all have situations where we know what we want to do and more or less how to do it, but get lost trying to justify it in the face of social pressure--in the arguments others present to support their whys.

You can resolve all you want, but resolutions without clear motivation go nowhere. Identify the whys and the hows should follow.

Wishing you all a peaceful, prosperous, and not-too-loud 2011.

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By the way, our friend Adam McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church, has published in The Washington Post a thoughtful rebuttal to recent research about the place social life has in the church setting. Read what he had to say here

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