It’s pretty common really. We get into the new year, we make promises to ourselves and we tell those around us that we believe should know and then… two weeks later we’re back in real life and struggling to find a reason to keep the resolution alive. It got hard. You know, the whole changing behavior part.

I compare the start of a new year to summer camp. The first few weeks are like the Monday and Tuesday of summer camp — everyone’s excited, it’s all new and you want to take it all in — then Wednesday happens. You haven’t slept because the other kids didn’t stop talking for two straight nights, it’s been a flurry of activity and you’re exhausted. You miss what you know — the familiar — you miss home. But then, eventually, you slog through Wednesday and Thursday happens. You get excited about the fact that the week is almost over. And Friday — well, that’s nostalgia day. The day you look back on the week and think, “that was amazing, I’m going to miss all of you, and I can’t wait to come back!” (well, for some anyway).

Starting a new year is a lot like the first two days of summer camp. It’s exciting, it’s entering into something new and staking claim in what you hope to be an amazing year.

Your best yet.

It’s sustainable for a while, then we get tired. Reality sets in. That weight we wanted to lose? Not gone yet, and this new diet isn’t as fun as pizza Thursdays. That goal I was going to meet? I’m not as far as I wanted to be, and I liked not working this hard. No one will notice when I give up… everyone else did… right?

It’s now officially Wednesday of summer camp.

Where we begin.

So, what does it take to get through that day? Through the desire to quit, now that all the fun feelings of a New Year have subsided, and we are back to our reality?

We can begin to answer those questions by understanding what’s happening to our brains and the way we make decisions and think.

When a new year is on the horizon, our brains start to think forward, we look to the future and with the change in year, begin to think of ideas of what our life could be. What do I want to accomplish this year? Who do I want to be?

We invite ourselves to think bigger, to embrace possibilityand to tell ourselves that this time, it will all be different.

This is called Divergent Thinking — generating creative ideas to challenges we face.

Divergent, in the world of psychology, is defined as: using a variety of premises as bases for inference and avoiding common limiting assumptions in making deductions.

That last part really lands. Avoiding common limiting assumptions in making deductions. It’s about seeing the possibilities despite what we might consider limitations.

With divergent thinking we’ve claimed a space for possibility, and we think we can do it this year. No, like we really believe this time. That belief, to a differing degree, ignores or dismisses the limitations that exist. It ignores the life-long habits, the difficulty of behavioral change, the kids that wake you up early so you can’t find time to get that workout in.

Ignoring or dismissing the limitations isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s quite great. It means you’re thinking bigger and looking farther than you normally would. The problem arrives when those limitations show up.

The Groan Zone.

The space between our initial ideas and goals — seeing the possibility — and the completion of those goals is the “groan zone.” It’s the space where the limitations begin to block progress, and we have to not only push through them but discern new choices and actions that will allow for us to move forward and achieve what we set out to achieve.

From divergence to the groan zone, we went from possibility and ideas to work and follow-through. From fun and futuristic thinking to daily work, to the grind, to the effort. Getting through the daily grind, sticking with the work, being accountable, all feel daunting. Your 15th salad in 10 days gets old. Getting up at 5:30am to workout got real. Your bed is warm, and so much nicer than that smelly gym.

Groaning is the sound you make when you get up at 5:30 am to workout in week two. Groaning is the sound you make when you are held accountable, when you stick with the work even when you don’t want to.

You groan because it’s hard.

The groan zone is where we don’t discern why, we feel the how.

If I want to lose weight, or be “nicer to my in-laws,” or close 10 more deals this year, the feeling of “how” creeps in. Our brain requires a step-by-step action plan that takes all the limitations into account. A plan that allows my divergent thinking to achieve convergence — where it all comes together.

Moving Through.

In the groan zone, you’re in the thick of it. You want to give up and walk away. Here’s some things you can do to hang on:

  1. Reconnect to the “why” — What led you to this goal in the first place? What part of you wanted this? What part of you would be incomplete if it didn’t happen?
  2. Reignite the possibility — What would be possible if you stuck with it?
  3. Recognize the Groan Zone is temporary — It’s referred to as a “zone” because it’s only part of the story. It’s temporary. It can be beaten. On the other side of the groan zone is what you wanted… and you can have it if you stick with it.
  4. Address the how — If the groan zone requires us to deal with limitations, then we need to address them head on and make an action plan for how to move forward (notice how this is last in line… without connecting to the “why,” the “how” won’t carry weight.).

And lastly, know this:

You can do it, and you’ll be better for it.

The difference between you and most people is that you don’t give up in the groan zone. It’s just a Wednesday of summer camp. You understand that if you get through today, tomorrow will be better.

And soon enough, it’s Friday of summer camp. And we’ll look back on this year with nostalgia. The year we stuck with it.

Dave Newell seeks to bring out brilliance in all people he encounters and has been building and developing leadership in individuals and groups for more than 15 years. He has delivered high impact leadership development and organizational strategy in all sectors, including individual coaching, business, education, non-profit, and government. Dave is trained in the Art of Participatory Leadership methodologies, which is an approach to leadership that scales up from the personal to the systemic using personal practice, dialogue, facilitation, and the co-creation of innovation to address complex challenges. He specializes in engaging individuals and multiple stakeholders in systems and culture change. Dave has delivered community engagement and change work across the US and internationally. You can find more information on his website.

Image courtesy of The Journal Garden | Vera Bitterer.