Permission to fly
Why do we feel like we have to get approval to follow our passions?
If you've decided to join the gym or learn a language this month, it's worth remembering that new year's resolutions have a tendency to fail.
Research proves that we're more likely to integrate small lifestyle changes than dramatic, unrealistic ones. Meanwhile, most of the goals that people set - lose weight, save money - are not specific enough to be actionable.
When you consider the evidence - and there's a lot of it - the sensible new year's resolution is to give up setting goals in January.
Besides, there's another, less discussed, reason why resolutions rarely work. While we tend to blame the twin culprits of time ("too busy") and money ("too broke") when we break the diet or skip the gym, the real culprit is often a simple lack of conviction.
By and large, there is a key difference between those who don't stick to their new year's resolutions and those who do.
The first group seeks validation by announcing their plan to their friends, family and across their various social media platforms. A goal is not a goal until it has been rubberstamped by everyone in their circle.
The second group doesn't announce their new year's resolutions. They join the gym or take up a language without consulting with their friends or discussing with their family.
Invariably, it's this group - the people who commit to a goal quietly and diligently - who stick to their new year's resolutions. Why? Because they don't feel compelled to ask for permission. When we examine the underlying factors that impede success, we often cite fear of failure, fear of success and fear of change. We're less inclined to consider a fear of personal responsibility.
In a society where we have to ask employers for time off work, and landlords for the privilege of owning a pet, we have all, to some degree, become used to asking for permission.
And the pattern is even more entrenched than we may realise, says self-development author Dr Christiane Northrup. "We live in a culture where we are programmed from birth to ask 'authority figures' for permission for everything," she says.
"For example, you may have had to ask your parents for permission to eat a snack if you were hungry between meals... as you got older, maybe you needed to ask permission to use your own money to buy something for yourself."
The trouble is that some people have forgotten that they are now old enough and bold enough to do things without asking first.
We all know a chronic permission-seeker. They are the people who labour under the delusion that there is an invisible committee signing off on every decision they make.
They are the people who have absolved themselves of personal responsibility by running every single choice they make past anyone within listening distance. Only, they aren't seeking an opinion. They are seeking authorisation.
Do you think it would be okay if I arrived early? Would it be really bad if I arrived late?
People of this nature even need permission to feel their emotions. Do you think I'm overreacting? Is it wrong to be angry about this? Is it normal to still be grieving?
Eventually they get to a point where every lifestyle change has to be announced, reviewed and, ultimately, endorsed by their nearest and dearest. I'm thinking of taking up Pilates... giving up dairy... joining Tinder...
This is permission-seeking in the extreme. However, it's a pattern that anyone can fall into and that we all have to monitor.
It's worth checking in with yourself every now and again to ask if you're seeking someone's opinion, or their approval. As Steve Maraboli writes in Unapologetically You, "Don't look for society to give you permission to be yourself".
Northrup calls it "giving yourself a permission slip", and she recommends that chronic permission-seekers start small.
"Giving yourself permission to be yourself is a process," she says. "It starts with small permissions such as giving yourself permission to rest when you are tired or sick, or giving yourself permission to ask for help when you need it.
"When you practice these smaller permissions on a regular basis, it becomes easier to give yourself permission to be your true self," she adds.
The new year is a great time to reclaim your personal power and give yourself a permission slip. Instead of thinking towards resolutions, think about reasserting your independence and trusting your own judgement.
If you're joining a gym, don't feel that you have to rope in a pal for moral support. If you're taking up a language, go to the class alone.
If you want to pursue something creative, push past the self-imposed hurdle that says creativity requires a licence, or the belief that you have to get the nod from a practising creative before you put brush to canvas or pen to paper.
When you ask others for permission to pursue your passions, you lose your connection with your higher intuition, your gut instinct and your inner knowing - and you fundamentally jeopardise your chances of success.
James Altucher puts it best in The Rich Employee: "If you don't give yourself permission to create a new world, chances are, nobody else will."
Health & Living