As I thought about goals for this year, I came up with the usual list of things I want to accomplish. The problem is... that list is always very redundant. I've been working on the same ten things for the past ten years. I feel like I can handle one-time goals - like graduating - because I can finish then move on with my life. But there are other goals I have, like "eat healthy," that are harder to accomplish because A) they aren't as measurable and B) they don't end. I need things to end! For example, I have to set a timer when I'm cleaning. Instead of "clean the kitchen," I have to think of it as "cleaning for fifteen minutes," because that way I know when it's going to be over.
What I'm getting to here is that I feel like I never change, and if I do change, I put an expiration date on it because I need to have a stopping point. That doesn't do me any good in the long run. I have this big, fat list of things I need to improve on, and it's the same big, fat list I've been staring at for most of my adult life. I am incapable of permanent change.
During 2017, I completed my internship for school, and my primary responsibility was to help write and beta test a workshop on willpower. I thought this was going to be a really wonderful experience. I thought it was going to help me with my own self-control and that I'd come out of it with all sorts of things overcome.
Quite the opposite happened. I hated the topic of willpower. I wrote the workshop and even taught it, and the whole time I was thinking, "Something isn't right with this." The message was basically that if you do this, this, and this, you will have more willpower, but I could't help noticing that all of the practices that have been shown to increase willpower also require willpower.
Secular research has come up with some interesting things, but it seems that there is no magical formula for increased willpower (which is probably why a lot of people - mostly fitness gurus - claim that willpower isn't even a thing). The conclusion I've come to is that if I want to experience real, permanent change, it's going to have to come through the Savior and the Atonement. So how do I tap into this power to be changed? I've taken this issue to the Lord multiple times, and I always get the same answer (and it's an answer I don't like):
Read your scriptures!
It's never "do this workout program" or "follow this 30 day fad diet" or "read this parenting book." It's always "read your scriptures," and it's always very clear and distinct, and my reaction is always, "Noooooo! Not that again!" (The answer I really want is, "Take this pill." Can't there just be a pill that makes me perfect?)
And then that old quote from Boyd K. Packer comes into my head...
"True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior."
Oh how I hate this quote.
Because I don't want this to be the answer. I want something else to solve all my problems. Plus, I like to study behavior, and the researcher in me wrestles with showing causation. It's hard to take something as broad as studying the scriptures and pinpoint the exact outcomes.
But since I trust the Lord, for 2018, I'm putting it to the test - an experiment upon the word, if you will. I'm not going to make several resolutions like I usually do. I am simply going to study the doctrine and see what results I get.
There's a quote from Elder Holland that I share in some of my presentations on happiness:
"...Happiness is not easy to find running straight for it... most times happiness comes to us when we least expect it, when we are busy doing something else. Happiness is almost always a by-product of some other endeavor."
I think the word "happiness" can be substituted for many other things. The reason I make resolutions or set goals is because I'm seeking something, but maybe I haven't been getting results because I always run straight for my list. This year, I'm going to keep myself busy with "some other endeavor" - studying the doctrine through the scriptures and the words of modern-day prophets.
I've prayed about how to do this so I can figure out why my current study of the doctrine isn't working, and here is the direction I've received:
- I need to be more consistent (I have a habit of studying every day for a month and then taking a whole month off)
- I need to pray before I read (sometimes I do, sometimes I don't)
- I need to be less rushed and less distracted
- I need to fast more frequently
I've also chosen a way to make it measurable. I've written a self-assessment. Essentially, it is an evaluation of areas of my life where I have been trying to improve for years but haven't had long-term success. On the first Sunday of each month, I'm going to fill out my assessment (it's a 1-10 scale so I can graph it later if my heart desires) just so I can see if there is any progress across the year.
My only resolution for 2018 is to see this through (but if I happen to learn how to make an awesome brisket, that will be an added bonus).