Are You Making a Commitment to Improving Your Life?
It’s that time of year again. Are you, like so many people, thinking about making your New Year’s resolutions? Do yours usually focus on what you want to have or do, or the things you wish were different than they are?
We believe that in order to make resolutions that really stick and bring you what you truly want, it’s important to look underneath the surface of your desires to what is most deeply important to you. So in light of that, here’s a short story that we’d like to share with you.
A boat docked in a tiny fishing village. A Tourist complimented the Fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.
“Not very long,” answered the Fisherman.
“But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the Tourist.
The Fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.
The Tourist asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, play the guitar, and sing a few songs… I have a full life.”
The Tourist interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard, and I can help you create a terrific business from what you already love to do! You should start by fishing longer every day and then you can sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra money, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to a big city! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise.”
“How long would that take?” asked the Fisherman.
“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the Tourist.
“And after that?”
“Afterwards? Well my friend, That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the Tourist, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!”
“Millions? Really? And after that?” said the Fisherman.
“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny coastal village, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings doing what you like and enjoying your friends.”
The Moral of the Story
You could probably identify many morals in this story, but the one we would like to focus on is about paying a attention to the difference between what you are resolving to do, your strategies, and what you value when you create a New Year’s resolution.
If you look carefully at this story you’ll notice that the Fisherman and the Tourist actually had many similar underlying values. These are most clearly shown in what they list as their concept of an ideal life. Each aspect of the life they describe is the result of experiencing something that they deeply value, and many of the things on their lists are direct expressions of these values, such as; friendship, play, relaxation, intimacy, friendship, etc. Some are hinted at in the activities; sleeping late maybe an expression of choice, ease, or rest. Fishing could be a way to experience beauty, harmony, peace, relaxation, fun, etc.
You could take any of the activities described in the story and, if you have some competency with the use of a values vocabulary, you could identify each of the deep motivations that create the desire for these activities.
Usually when we’ve heard people talk about this story they do so with a sense that the Tourist is somehow “missing the point,” as though creating a thriving, global enterprise was somehow pointless given that it only leads to that same lifestyle the Fisherman already has. We believe that the activities the Tourist describes actually help make our point about the importance of knowing the deep motivations that drive the strategies that are attractive to you.
Some of the values that may be driving the Tourist, both in his having acquired an MBA and his quest to create a thriving business, are his values for; accomplishment, self-expression, success, adventure, and possibly even contribution. Contribution to all those people who would be employed, the families fed, and the opportunities that a growing company provides to its employees.
None of these values could be satisfied in the same way during the retirement the Tourist describes. That’s the time when the tourist will have the opportunity to experience the rest of those qualities that they value.
Does Your New Year’s Resolution Make Sense?
So how does this relate to making a New Year’s resolution? While it’s good to keep the end in mind while making a resolution (such as that ideal retirement) it’s probably more important to keep the beginning in mind. What gives birth to your desire for a particular outcome in the first place? What is the deepest motivation that creates your desire for the particular New Year’s resolution you hope to make, whether it’s eating less, exercising more, having more fun, or accomplishing that goal you keep putting off?
If you can get to the “beginning” of that desire, what you most deeply value, you may recognize that in fact there are many strategies that would allow you to experience what you value. And if you look carefully enough you may notice that the particular strategy you are resolving to undertake actually leaves out some things that are very important to you. In which case it’s important to rethink your resolution so that whatever strategy finally you choose will provide the opportunity to satisfy everything you desire.
On the other hand, by doing this investigation you may find that your New Year’s resolution is the perfect strategy for helping you experience everything you desire, with nothing left out. This can be a good thing as well, because, as we have discovered over and over again, when people are connected strongly to what they value they are much more motivated to take the actions that will help them experience those results. In fact, a clear articulation of one’s values provides the most effective kind of motivation we’ve seen for sticking with one’s resolutions.
So we encourage you to take a moment and reverse engineer your New Year’s resolutions to determine whether or not they will be likely to satisfy everything that you find valuable. If you’d like some help, you can use our free Values Exercise to do this.
Please post a reply and let us know what you discover if you do this little exercise.