Dear Dr. Pomfrey,
I wrote my goals for the New Year. I was almost excited until I stumbled on my goals for 2009, 2010, and 2011. I keep writing the same things, forgetting about them, and writing them down the next year. It’s like the movie Groundhog Day. Each year I wrote that I’d forgive someone who offended me, lose 15-20 lbs (I’m 80-85 pounds over), increase my income by 10 percent, and exercise 2-3 days a week. I’m a practical man and I like to keep my goals real. (I admit I’m also lazy and sometimes incompetent.) Why do I keep repeating myself without moving forward? —Nowhere Man
Dear Nowhere Man,
Your behavior is a symptom of a defeated sense of self. If you were in therapy, I would seek to understand the underlying cause of your alleged incompetence and laziness by exploring the environment from which your beliefs about yourself came—your family.
Nowhere Man, your brain was shaped by the concepts, beliefs, and behavior of your early family—not solely what they focused on, but also what they neglected. How did your parents relate to money? How did they support your success or failure? What messages did they give you about work, achievement, creativity, autonomy, responsibility, etc.? All of these messages contributed to your conscious and unconscious beliefs about yourself.
Let me propose a little psycho-babble as to why you might be noncompliant with your own desires—could be a little boring, but don’t worry, I’ll wake you when I’m done. As a child, Nowhere Man, parts of your unconscious mind identified with your parents. Why? Because power has influence. Your parents were all powerful in your life until you were at least 11 years of age—and they continued to maintain significant influence until you were in your late teens.
Because you unconsciously identified with your parents’ beliefs about yourself and the world, you now unconsciously comply with those beliefs—even if your conscious mind chooses the opposite! Your behavior today reveals your compliance with both the positive and negative beliefs of your early parental environment.
Consciously, you choose what you want to achieve each year. Unconsciously, you comply with the negative beliefs instilled in you by early caregivers. Those beliefs unconsciously inform you that you do not deserve to have the world the way you want it. Your brain’s hidden allegiance to your early care-givers is greater than your current loyalty to yourself. Your self-sabotage is a pathology of loyalty.
Okay, you can wake up now.
Nowhere Man, you’re not lazy—just scared. Scared you will fail, or succeed, that others will laugh or discover you are a fraud, incompetent, less than perfect, human. If you’re like most adults, you have learned doing nothing is safer than trying and failing. You protect yourself by doing nothing.
You may be asking, “How do I overcome unconscious fears?” First, you must make the unconscious conscious. It’s difficult to change an ingrained behavioral pattern until you’re aware of its source. Psychotherapy with a psychodynamic therapist (trained to explore the unconscious) may be a good starting point.
Secondly, Nowhere Man, your goals are so uninspiring I caught myself snoring while reading them! Lose 15-20 pounds this year? Wow, that’s almost 1.5 pounds a month! Wake up, Nowhere Man, you’re 85 pounds overweight. You’re not in Groundhog Day—you’re 75 pounds too heavy to qualify for that kind of hog! Forgive “one person who offended me this year”? Well, who needs Jesus when you’re around?
You need compelling goals that move you off your couch—goals that challenge the invisible chains of childhood inhibiting your progress. Why not opt for radical transformation? How about losing all of that weight this year? Why not forgive everyone who ever did anything wrong in the history of the universe, beginning with yourself? Why would you want to carry anybody’s mistake inside of you?
And please, stop lying to yourself about being a “practical man” trying to keep your goals “real.” You’re afraid—that’s why your goals are impotent.
Another avenue to accomplish your goals is to connect yourself to a higher purpose. Choose goals that make the world a better place. If you connect your life to small things, your joy will be small. Connect yourself to the highest values of life and your experience of joy will soar.
It also helps to keep the “why” of your goals in the forefront of your mind. What do I mean? When you create a goal, like losing 85 pounds, you have reasons. For example, your health will improve, you’ll feel better and look better. The problem is, once you begin, the pain of the task overwhelms you and you quit. In order to realize your goal, keep your mind on the “why”—not just the goal.
My last piece of advice is to get a coach. Everyone needs a coach. I’m a major fan of Tony Robbins. You can get his books and tapes online—or go to one of his seminars.
And finally, both Groundhog Day and “Nowhere Man” are stories of hope—not loss or despair. In Groundhog Day Bill Murray is fated to relive a humdrum day in Punxsutawney, PA, over and over again until he realizes he’s the problem and creates a new reality for himself. The song “Nowhere Man,” written by John Lennon in an hour of gloom, finally leaves us with an important take-home message, one I hope you hear: “Nowhere Man please listen, you don’t know what you’re missing, Nowhere Man, the world is at your command!”