Not in a Vacuum

Let us start this article with a question that will ensure you will continue to read this entire article, pull you in, make you feel good about yourself and want to read more. Ready?

How is that New Year’s resolution going?

If you are reading this line, I’m amazed and glad. Either you are still hanging in there with what you resolved, simply hanging in there, or didn’t make any resolutions.

I am going to assume that you, faithful reader, made some type of resolution, even a small one, and that either you are working hard at achieving the resolution, or that the resolution went by the wayside sometime in mid-January. So now I will ask: How long? How long will it last? How long did it last? How’s it going? What has happened?

You see, willpower only lasts for so long. And that’s important to note because that is most often the fuel being used for the engine of resolutions. Most of the time it’s negative willpower being used: “I’m just not going to do x-y-z anymore!” Sometimes, though, we use positive willpower (“I’m going to do x-y-z this year/for the rest of my life”); but mostly for resolutions we use some form of “Never again!”

And it lasts through mid-January.

Sometimes late February (so for many of you, the end is near).

“What is the problem?! Why is it like this everytime?! Why can’t I simply do what I said I was going to do until the goal is reached or the result is achieved?!” (Actually, some do, and they wind up in commercials for Subway or SlimFast. But for most of us, the failure falls into the stockpile of misery that convinces us we are weak and can never do anything, so pass the chocolate).

Well, not so fast my friend. Hang on one second, there, pardner. Put the truffle down, back away, and take a slow, deep breath.

The problem with negative willpower is that it creates a vacuum. And NOTHING CAN EXIST IN A VACUUM (sorry, didn’t mean to yell). There is an inherent problem with “I’ll just stop”, because once you say that and do that but don’t do anything else, you have created a vacuum, which lasts for, uhm, twelve seconds (or 2.2 days, whichever comes first). A stop behavior needs a start behavior to fill the void. For example, you may say, “I’ll just stop eating so much”, or “I’ll just stop gossiping”, or “I’ll just won’t feel or think that way anymore.” Sorry, if you don’t replace what you just stopped doing, you won’t be stopping-doing that for very long. Rather than just-stopping gossiping, start thinking and saying positive things about someone, or going to them and saying, “I heard x-y-z; is that so? How can I help?” (covenant community stuff are great start behaviors).

Or rather than just-not-eating so much, start chewing slower, savoring more each bite, taking more walks, breathing more deep breaths, drinking more water (especially the water—fills up the belly and stops the cravings).

Taking away something only works if you replace it with something. You will be taking positive steps in fulfilling your resolution by replacing it with something helpful, healthy, or wholesome (yes, one chocolate can be healthy—but just one—you may now pick up again the truffle).
Nothing exists in a vacuum, because in a vacuum, there is no oxygen. Oxygen is slightly necessary for living things. Renew your resolution by giving it some oxygen through partnering a start behavior with the stop. Go on, give it a try—it’s only February.

Paul Johnson is a professionally licensed marriage and family therapist, a professionally licensed counselor and a nationally certified counselor. Please consider contacting LifePractical Counseling for your counseling or consultant needs. You may reach us at 205-807-6645.