It’s that time of year again. The end.
I think you’re supposed to look back on your achievements, reflect on what you did well and learn from what you didn’t.
Then you’re supposed to garner some kind of steely resolve and create New Year resolutions to become an even shinier you.
Mark Twain famously said, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”
It’s Groundhog Day.
So… how do you learn from experience?
I like Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey’s work (from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education). They highlight mindset over behaviour.
They suggest that if you haven’t been able to change your behaviour, despite your best efforts, it might be because those behaviours are protecting you from something.
Like a defence mechanism. There are more complicated underlying reasons.
You might have heard it’s best if you try to change just one thing at a time. It should take 21 days. I hope it works for you. It might. What if it doesn’t?
Kegan and Lahey say, “The failure to enact visible goals is often due to the “success” of enacting unseen ones”.
But what about our feelings? It’s frustrating and anxiety provoking to learn and change and develop.
That’s why I also like the work of Wilfred Bion (who was a British psychoanalyst). He went as far as to say, “There is a hatred of having to learn by experience at all”.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly felt the resistance to the stretch. The reluctance to go beyond my comfort zone.
For Bion, it’s about building our capacity to bear the frustration and pain of not knowing, or tolerating the pain of reality.
The only way I know how to do this is with someone else. Someone who will stand in the fire with you while you learn.
When I was struggling to find a focus for my PhD I kept myself very busy presenting at conferences. I won awards and scholarships.
On the surface I felt great. I looked successful. Underneath I knew I was in trouble. It just took me a long time to admit it.
I didn’t have a thesis. The busyness protected me from the unbearable reality of not knowing what to do.
Until I found a new supervisor. All I knew was that something was wrong. She could see that I wasn’t doing the right work. She held this reality and contained my fears until I was able to myself. It wasn’t easy. But it was only then that I started to think. I learned to do the right work… and graduated.
If you don’t have someone like my supervisor in your corner, perhaps finding that someone could be one of your resolutions? From my personal experience, it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself.
What do you want for yourself in 2015? Set yourself up for success and have a happy New Year!