We have all had the experience of making New Year’s resolutions and having our resolve, despite the best and most sincere of intentions, despite our willfulness and determination, despite wagers for bragging rights and more, fail. Though it is still very early in the new year, I would wager that some of us have already fallen short in our resolutions.
When we make resolutions, whether at New Year’s or not, we have typically identified some aspect of our behavior that we think we need to correct about ourselves. Most commonly, these resolutions are often about decreasing “addictive behaviors” such as alcohol and/or drug use, over-eating (or under-eating), smoking, over-spending, over-working, gambling, spending too much time on the internet, or being in relationships that are not healthy. We have identified our behavior as incorrect or wrong, else it wouldn’t need correcting.
While it is important for us all to periodically stop and assess ourselves, too often this becomes a process of identifying everything that is “wrong” with us and setting out to change. The problem is that when our focus is only on our mistakes, our shortcomings, our faults, our defects – the things that are “wrong” with us – it is an incomplete inventory and undermines our own feelings of self-worth, if indeed we have any after such a detailed look at our failures.
Addiction recovery through the 12 Steps has given us all some valuable tools for living, one of which is self-inventory. We do need to take stock, but we need to also count our positives, our assets, our good qualities, our accomplishments along with our shortcomings. If you have ever worked at a job taking inventory, you learn to count it all. Let’s not be so focused on fixing what is “wrong” with us that we overlook what is “right” with us.
When I quit smoking cigarettes in 1981, I found it very helpful to focus on the image of myself as a non-smoker. Rather than condemning myself for years of this bad habit, I attached my thoughts to how good it felt to be a non-smoker - not someone who was trying to quit, but a non-smoker. When I later began my own addiction recovery, I applied this same principle. Rather than beating myself up for my years of addiction, I adopted the identity of a recovering addict and then set out to behave like a person in recovery should.
What I have learned is that our behaviors support our beliefs. What needs to be changed to support the behavioral changes we so often focus on is our basic beliefs. In the Bible (Romans 12:2) the apostle Paul states "... be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." Maybe we simply need to change our minds about what we believe and the actions will follow.