Can’t tell yourself what to do?

Made any New Year’s resolutions for 2015? Lose weight, take a class, exercise, be a nicer person, save money? Why do we do this every year when, more likely than not, some part of us just sees resolutions as a bull sees a red cape in the arena?

We do vary quite a bit in terms of how difficult it is to tell ourselves to do something. Some of us have relatively little problem (maybe even work better) with deadlines while others procrastinate until the absolute last minute. Why? What’s the difference between the two extremes and all the shades in between?

It actually has to do with what coping skills we developed as kids to help us survive whatever challenges we faced from our families, cultural obligations, …. all relationships and situations. Our environment shapes us into the people we become (in addition to the genetics we bring to the table, of course). It may seem counterintuitive but the folks who found that being really stubborn, not listening to others, doing it all as close to their own way as they could manage, are the ones who now have trouble telling themselves what to do. It’s like getting stuck in a habit and not being able to apply it selectively.

So, what’s to be done? Obviously, therapy can help but just having an awareness that you’ve developed this pattern gives someopti ons. For example, try going in the side door instead of taking a battering ram to the main entrance. The more “don’t tell me what to do!” that you have, the more you will respond to direct edicts with your dukes up. A collaborative, side door approach is more likely to avoid the vehement defensive reaction. Ask yourself, “Can we manage this? What will work best?” Treat yourself the same way you would a beloved and respected friend.

Allow humor to give you some perspective. Exactly how long have people been telling you you’re pig-headed? When everyone you know agrees on something, there might be some truth to it. Also, remembering that you needed it to protect yourself takes a lot of potential judgment out of the scenario, allowing the dukes to come down enough for you to consider whether you’d actually like to do what you’re telling yourself to do. A good therapist can help you find healthier ways to maintain your boundaries … with a lot less wasted energy! Good luck with those resolutions!

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