Erik M. Gregory Ph.D.

The Secular Shepherd

Charles Darwin and the Foil of New Year's Resolutions

The Deliciousness of Change

Posted Jan 03, 2016

Erik Gregory
Source: Erik Gregory

According to Inc. Magazine (2016), a survey of 5000 Americans revealed the following top resolutions:

  • Live life to the fullest
  • Enjoy a healthy lIfestyle
  • Lose weight
  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • Save more and spend less
  • Pay down debt

From a positive psychology perspective, these are healthy resolutions that research reflects is a path to greater happiness.  In particular, having experiences over things; spending time with friends and family; decreasing major stressors such as financial burdens; and exercising and eating whole foods.

Technically, we generally know how  to work towards these goals, but we often set ourselves up for disappointment when we do not achieve them..only to relist them the following year.  Instead, we need to learn how to adaptively change our behaviors in order for these goals to be realized. If simply making these resolutions created the change we wanted, we would be a very physically, financially, and mentally healthy population. Unfortunately, this is not the case.  

There is a whole industry that awakens at this time of year to support people for their resolution of weight loss. Technically we now what is necessary to lose weight:  move more; eat less.  The harder part is adapting our lives to get into new patterns of, for example, shopping for different types of food; taking time to move more; and even buying clothing that allows us to get out and burn off some calories and engage our bodies in activities.  

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and environmental adaptation has everything to do with this topic.  In order to change we need to adapt to a new way of being.  This is hard work.  Staying the same or in our default ways of being when change is wanted or needed will not create movement and may lead to “extinction” in some cases.

I often see that people distract themselves from the more difficult work by buying the latest diet books or exercise equipment and feel as if we have achieved a majority of the goal. Sales of diet books and exercise equipment (as well as gym memberships) explode this time of the year.  

I had a chance to visit my family in Vienna, Austria for the New Year.   Beyond the traditions of exchanging pig-themed items for good luck, the Austrians wish each other a “good slip into the New Year.”  In other words, may your movement into the New Year go smoothly.

Small pieces of lead are also melted, thrown into a container of water, and the resulting hardened shape is interpreted for each individual as to what the shape portends for the New Year. Perhaps this is not a surprising tradition given that Freud developed his psychoanalytic theory of unconscious interpretation in this beautiful city.

My family tried something different this year.  Rather than interpret lead or create New Year resolutions, we decided to consider thematically what we would like to work towards including more in our life that we may have forgotten about; things that we had enthusiasm or passion around that may have been displaced by the challenges of life.  We shared some of the following themes:

Deliciousness, Recharging, Emergence, Kindness, Compassion, Structure, Engagement in Art, and Reconnecting with Old Friends were named as themes around the table.  We agreed that we would remind each other of these themes over the course of the year so each one of us could reflect on whether our activities moved us towards the theme or away from it.

Let’s see if creating themes that you to introduce and adapt to having more in life allows for successful change over a more slowly and longer trajectory.  

Take the above theme of deliciousness.  Perhaps you introduce the theme by finding ways to bring color, music, a trip to the museum, or a delicious food into your life.  Ask yourself if an activity, food, time with someone or many other experiences in daily life bring deliciousness to your life, or does it take away from it? Then you can slowly, but surely follow the path towards this theme and rather than checking it off your to-do list, make it part of your daily life in some large or small way.

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