One popular characterization of insanity describes it as “doing the same thing over and over, expecting to get a different result.” And at no time of the year is that particular brand of insanity more evident than right now — the dreaded Resolutions Season.
Please note: I’m not talking about our much ballyhooed failure to follow through on our resolutions. I’m talking about the way we approach the whole process of personal change in general.
Namely, we think that because we’ve made a decision to change, our reality should promptly begin arranging itself at the behest of our will.
Ah, yes, the will. We love the idea of willpower, don’t we? It’s forceful, bold, intrepid. It reeks of individual determination, and it suggests just enough stalwart endurance to satisfy our stoic sensibilities.
The will speaks in a commanding voice: Go forth! Make it so! But I would argue that the real key to creating positive change is not so much will as it is willingness.
Unlike the will, which is all the rage this time of year, willingness doesn’t get a lot of airtime in our culture. It comes across as too passive, perhaps, too cooperative, too eager to please, too . . . feminine. But I think willingness deserves a lot more credit than it gets, particularly when it comes to shifting personal behavior and establishing new habits. Because willingness, frankly, is a much better and more reliable partner.
The will is a hard-driving taskmaster that cements itself to a static idea of success (and, thus, to constant reminders of the potential for failure). Willingness, meanwhile, is open to experimentation and suggestions, to trying things on for size, to seeking out new information and playing out different scenarios.
The will tends to think it has all the answers and it doesn’t relish asking for directions. Willingness, on the other hand, is full of open-minded inquiries, like: How might I go about getting started on this project? What would happen if I tried this? What would be most helpful now?
Where the will never says die, willingness is continually reborn — and it gets smarter and stronger each time around. The will talks a tough game, but it hates losing — so much so that it is prone to walking away in a huff just as things are getting interesting. Willingness, meanwhile, sees every lost round as an opportunity to sharpen skills, strategy and awareness. Willingness is OK with taking risks, because every risk brings new intelligence and experience: “Well, that clearly didn’t work,” says willingness, dusting itself off. “So now perhaps I’ll try it this way.”
Willingness, in short, is all about learning and growing. And that’s one reason I’m excited to share a new collection of resources with you. This month, we’re introducing the first of what I hope will be a continuously expanding collection of Experience Life Healthy Learning programs. These are hand-selected educational products and services designed to help you make the most of your time and energy, enhance your well-being, expand your potential, and increase your satisfaction in living.
Most of the resources we’ve selected come straight from the expert sources we consult for our articles — resources like Byron Katie, Deepak Chopra and Live Dynamite (more about them in “New Lease on Life“). And then there are terrific learning tools like PhilosophersNotes — which if you haven’t explored yet, you must, because these superb downloadable book summaries (like CliffsNotes, but cooler) are available free to our readers for the rest of this month! You have no time to read? You can download MP3s of the summaries and listen to them on the go.
There is no better way to expand willingness, I find, than by constantly expanding your knowledge and perspectives. Taking in helpful new information not only makes the energy you invest in your pursuits go further, it also serves as a safeguard against inertia and helplessness — both of which tend to be in heavy rotation this time of year.
Anyway, I hope you’ll check out the Healthy Learning collection at experiencelife.com/healthy-learning-resources. I also hope you’ll enjoy this issue of Experience Life, which we packed with creative and practical suggestions for reinventing yourself and the way you approach change.