This morning, I wrote an apology note — to myself…
I’ll explain in a minute, but first — the context.
It’s January 8th.
And if recent research is any indication, you have about 4 days left of actually sticking to your New Year’s resolutions.
That’s assuming you are a high performer, too.
I found a study by Strava, which apparently is a social network for athletes. They analyzed 31.5 million pieces of data about online activities. And they found that January 12th is the date most people start failing at their New Year’s resolutions.
Which seems about right.
I’ve heard it said that if you stick with a habit for 28 days (4 weeks), you’ll probably keep it for the long run. And so it’s inevitable that if most people FAIL at keeping their resolutions, that even high performers fail before that 28-day threshold.
Most people probably fail a lot faster.
One study found that just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals. That’s 92% who didn’t.
92% who went back to their normal way of doing things.
92% who tried, gave up, and settled for the status quo.
92% of people who are setting themselves up for regret…
You don’t set a New Year’s goal or resolution because you’re completely happy with where you are today, and who you are today.
You set goals because you want more.
Maybe for you it’s more money. Or more health. Or more quality time with your family.
Or maybe you want less.
Less stress. Less struggle. Less unhealthy habits. Less procrastination. Less sadness or fear or frustration.
Either way, you want a positive change in your world. Moving away from some negative or pain, and toward some positive or pleasure.
That’s why you set the goal. That’s why you make the resolution.
There are all kinds of things you can do to be more successful in your goals…
And yes, we’re still getting to the apology letter to myself.
Though let’s start with some simple questions…
— Why do you want this change?
— Do you have a clear finish line, that’s concrete and measurable?
— What’s your plan for achieving your goal?
— Who is in your corner to support you?
— How will you celebrate your victories?
Not only that, you need to establish habits to move you toward your goal.
And often it’s a tiny keystone habit that makes all the difference. When I started stepping on the scale first thing every morning and putting the number into a spreadsheet, that had absolutely nothing to do with actually losing weight and becoming more fit. But it brought the intention to the front of my mind first-thing every morning, and gave me a measurement of how I was doing. And everything else I needed to do came from that habit.
But what if we’re talking about bad habits and procrastination? About the habits you want to get rid of? And what about changes that don’t have a clear finish line, but that represent important changes nonetheless?
Here’s why you should write an apology letter to yourself…
It’s easy to see all the things you’re doing and not doing in a day — that are holding you back from being who you want to be, living the life you want to live.
You’ve watched yourself squander opportunities and potential, letting the hours on the clock tick by, being less than your best.
You already have a whole pile of regrets. Not just for the things you did, that went wrong. But especially for the things that you could’ve done and didn’t, and now regret not doing.
The conversations you could’ve had.
The opportunities you could’ve pursued.
The difficult things you could’ve tried.
And honestly, what would’ve it meant to have failed at those things? At least you’d have tried.
When you put your heart and soul into something that’s hard, and you fail, you usually walk away with pride. You may have failed, but at least you tried.
When you see something worth doing but don’t try, you feel a tinge (or a tsunami) of shame and pain. You fear failure and so you do nothing, not realizing that is even worse.
Consider the effect of a lifetime of under-performance…
My question is, what does the YOU from one year, three years, a decade, or the rest of your life into the future feel about this?
Lying on your deathbed, how will you feel about what you did today? This week? This last year?
Will you sit there with regret? Because you knew the actions you could’ve taken. Because you saw your bad habits, and did them anyway. Because you didn’t step up to the opportunities that presented themselves. Because…
Imagine how your future self would feel about your now self. About how much more potential you could’ve used. About how much more success you could’ve had in whatever areas of life are truly important to you. About what impact you could’ve had.
Now step back into your now self.
And sit down and write…
Dear future self,
I’m sorry. I’m writing to apologize about…
Sit down and write an apology. For the effects of all your bad habits. For the right things you could’ve done, and didn’t. For the wrong things you did, even when you knew they were wrong. For all the decisions and actions you took that led to living a sub-optimal life.
Apologize as if your now self didn’t change a thing…
Don’t assume a rosy future where you suddenly are meeting all your New Year’s resolutions, and where all your goals and affirmations automatically come true.
Assume the negative outcome that comes from not changing the negatives in your life, from not taking responsibility for your failures and your future.
Sincerely apologize to your future self, for how you stole from them all those things that were possible, but that you didn’t achieve that would’ve made your future self’s life better — happier, healthier, more abundant, and more impactful.
If you’re like me, you’ll feel two things from doing this…
I did this exercise this morning. I’m not going to share what I wrote. Because this is deeply and irrevocably personal.
But I will tell you how it made me feel.
It made me feel embarrassed, for the things I know I CAN do better, but don’t.
It made me feel regretful, for how my life could’ve been better if I got a grip on some of this stuff already.
It made me feel a little sick to the stomach, realizing I’m not as great as I want to believe I am.
But it also made me feel powerful, because I reclaimed my power.
It made me feel hopeful, because I can turn the darkness into light.
It made me feel motivated, because I have a clear path to honor my future self, and ensure less regret.
Two final thoughts…
First, a quote from Carl Jung.
This has me thinking about a famous quote from Carl Jung, who I consider to be one of the most important thinkers in modern history.
His quote: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
That’s exactly the purpose of this exercise.
It’s easy with goals and plans and resolutions to imagine the best future you. Your perfect self as a figure of light from the future. And that will make you feel good in the moment. But all the research on resolutions and goals says it doesn’t work — at least not for most people.
I’m not promising enlightenment. But I do think there’s a special power in this. Imagine the future you if you don’t do anything different. If you don’t do what you know is right and best for you. That, for most of us, is a dark place to take our imagination. Something we’d prefer not to become conscious about.
And yet, it’s exactly in this choice to make this darkness conscious that we may be able to carry ourselves more toward the light.
Second, motivating the elephant.
Last week I did a video on The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. If you haven’t watched it yet — in full — I recommend you do so. And then consider getting the book.
One of the biggest lessons that comes from that (and from a book that I consider to be a follow-up: Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath) is that our behavior comes from at least two major sources…
Logic (the rider) and emotion (the elephant).
You can make any logical and rational decision or goal you want. Just like a rider can hop on an elephant and want it to take them wherever they want.
But if your emotional self has other plans, you’ll probably fail. That is, if the elephant doesn’t also want to go to where the rider wants to go — and the rider isn’t able to change its mind — both rider and elephant will end up where the elephant wants.
As much as you can really FEEL the emotions the exercise above is meant to stimulate, you are motivating the emotional elephant to go where your rational rider wants to go.
But be careful. Because that may just make you unstoppable.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,