Episode 10: Making the Most of the New Year
with Keith Eigel & Sara Musgrove

At the start of any new year, many people take the time to reflect on where they’ve been and what they’d like to be different. Sadly, too often these goals and resolutions fail, often after just a few days. Today, your hosts share what they’ve learned about how to make transformative life changes more effectively. Our hope for you is that you will continue to grow into the person you want to be over this coming year and beyond.

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Episode transcript

Sara  This is Sara Musgrove, and I am just dropping in really quickly to let you know that today's episode is going to be a little bit different. Instead of bringing you a conversation that either Keith or I had with a leader and hearing their story about how they have grown over the years, what we wanted to do is take this New Year's episode and use it as a chance to share with you some of the things that we have learned that are specific best practices of growth. And as you think about this upcoming year, as you think about changes you may want to make, ways that you can continue to grow into the version of you that you want to be, we wanted to just equip you with as much as we can to help get this new year started out right. Also, I'm excited that in this episode we are going to announce a webinar that we are doing on January 22nd and so I want you to pay attention to that. Go to our website, We really miss interacting with you in real time and so we thought a webinar would be a really fun way to be a part of your growth journey to walk you through the growth gap tool. We know a number of you have downloaded it already, which is really fun to see, but if you need a little help getting through it, if you have questions, come join us on January 22nd. We would love to see you there. And for now, enjoy our conversation about why New Year's resolutions fail.

Sara Hey, everyone, welcome to The Growing as Growing-Ups podcast and Happy New Year!

Keith Happy New Year everybody.

Sara This is our first episode of 2021, and we have no idea what this New Year is going to hold. But one thing that I think is probably true is that we are still in the first week of January. This is the time of year when most everybody is reflecting on how life has gone over the past year and what they want to be different in the coming year.  And I mean, 2020 - what?!  A disaster in so many different ways and yet a blessing in some others. But I think we're all kind of looking at this new year as, OK, things are going to be different still and we need to stop waiting for it to be over - we need to take some more proactive steps, we need to get back into the process of working and growing and doing life. And I think the most classic representation of that, as you know, is the New Year's resolution, and it is still the first week in January and I'm guessing many of our listeners have set and already broken their New Year's resolution. And so that is what we are going to talk about today, is what do we do with these desires that we have to grow in certain ways, and the frustration we feel when we fall apart so early?

Keith You know, it is so funny that for a long time, most of my life, even I have not been a big fan of New Year's resolutions. I've been a big fan of growth for a really long time. But the whole idea of New Year's resolutions, has been so tainted for me in seeing how many people will make them and can't stick with them, quit doing them, forget they made them, whatever. It's just this sort of ongoing Sisyphus-like uphill rolling the rock up the hill, it just keeps rolling back down kind of battle. And, you know, you and I have both spent such a significant chunk of our adult lives at this point studying human development and growth. And the problem is, kind of in a nutshell, that New Year's resolutions are designed to fail. Right, I mean, it's just a big overgeneralized idea about something that we're going to be better at this year, but we don't really do the hard work of exploring why that's even a problem for us.

Sara So go further on that - what is it that is missing in a New Year's resolution?

Keith Well, the goal, the vague "I want to lose weight", the vague "I want to be stronger", "I want to be more fit", "I want to be more organized", "I want to be eat more healthy", whatever it is, all of that is fine. It creates, I mean, it potentially creates a True North for us that, "Oh yeah, this is the reason I'm doing this". It contextualizes it into a bigger picture, right? But the problem is that the reason we are not already that way is because there are other values that we hold, right, and they may be about freedom or they may be about, you know, having our taste-buds satisfied or loving TV or even more noble stuff like connecting with family or all of these other things that actually are creating what we have sometimes referred to as a "competing commitment", right? It's another commitment that we hold that is, maybe not, it is working against, but getting at the competing commitment in its relationship to the new thing that we want to be more of, is not easy work. I mean, you know, we've told people to go download the Growth Gap Tool over and over again and again and again, go to and download the Growth Gap Tool. If you need to hit pause right now on this recording, go to, and download this tool because we'll be talking about component parts and pieces of this. But the idea, Sara, is that every time we have a commitment that we want to make towards some goal, some way to improve ourselves, I would--you don't like me to be hyperbolic--but I would even say 100 percent of the time, but let's just go with almost all of the time, there is another commitment we hold in a way that winds up actually working against that commitment. And so if we are not identifying both the thing that we want to be more of, and the reason that we've been held in place, in most cases for a long time, if not our whole lives, it's really difficult to make progress. And what happens, what replaces progress, is discouragement and not even living into our own standards in some way. And people just say "uncle" or they forget or "conveniently" forget about it.

Sara Yeah, I think that's so true and so powerful and what I find to be at work in my own life and in the lives of people that I coach professionally and just talk to socially, is that we don't take the time to pause and think about why we haven't done those things in the past. And I've been a part of conversations where somebody makes a goal of "I'm going to go to the gym five times this week". OK, Mike, first of all, that's a big goal if you haven't been going to the gym - and we'll talk about some of those principles later - but then I follow up a week later, "How'd do you do?" "Oh, I didn't make it. I'm going to do it this week." Okay, a week later, "How'd it go?" and it's not until I stop and go, "OK, time out." Like, stop being discouraged by the fact that you haven't done it. Why, like think back to those days you thought you were going to go - why didn't you go, and what can you learn from why it didn't work out? And you know this is my soapbox, Keith, is that we can learn more, or maybe not necessarily more, but as much from the things that we try and fail, as we can the things that succeed. And so if your goal is something like, you know, the classic New Year's resolution is to get healthier, right? If you're continuing to find yourself eating Little Debbie snack cakes instead of fruits and vegetables - why? Well, is it because they're in your kitchen? Is it because you're stressed out and that's what you do? Is it because you develop these habits and this routine that you need to break? Like, looking at why you're not doing it and then going, OK, there's something about food that isn't just food, it's a comfort, it's a means to some other end, it's a representation of something else. You know, for me it's always "I want to work out more" and then I just get tired and I prioritize rest or I prioritize the other things I'm doing in my day that I don't have the energy left to give to this thing that I've said I want to be about. And I think that is the first thing that is missing from a New Year's resolution - not understanding, as you said, like what is that competing commitment? Another thing that I find is that people don't spend the time to really name why they want to get better at that thing. And I think back to your conversation with C.J. and this idea that you have to have a bigger "why", right? If I want to read more, if I want to work out more, if I want to whatever it is I want to do more of, I've got to know why that matters, right? And I think about the people who I've coached who have talked about wanting to get healthier because they want to be able to play with their grandkids, right? So then when you're staring down the Little Debbie cake or the apple, it's not just "I want to choose the apple because I'm supposed to want the apple", it’s "I'm going to choose the apple because I want to be able to play with my grandkids", right? Having that deeper, "why". And this goes back to those “bigger me” values of asking yourself, "why?" Why do you want to be healthier? Why do you want to read more? Why do you want to go back to school? Why do you want to do all the things that you think of at this time of year, getting to that value in that motivation behind it, and not just the behavior you're trying to change. I think it helps those commitments and those goals stick better.

Keith You know, Sara, if it were just what it took to become--let's just stick with healthier diet for a minute, like you've been doing. It's not like what it takes to get there is unknown. It's not like a million doctors haven't figured this out and written books on it, right? The skill set to get there is already just something that if it was that easy, we could just submit to the skill set in a way. And getting to this "why" that you're talking about - it doesn't have to be a noble "why", it can be that "I want to feel better", right? So it's not just the apple or the snack cake, right? It's the "No. Do I want to feel better or not?". And it's like "Do I want to be able to..” - I don't know, anything I bring up right now is going to probably wind up sounding too connected to this “bigger me” kind of "who do I want to be" goal because I tend to orient that way a little bit. But that naming of the "why" can push us over the hump. In a way it can help arm the bigger thing that we want to be more of. It can back it up and help defend it and help support it. And, you know, go into a sports analogy, it's like the other players around the running back are creating the hole and moving the bad guys out of the way, right, so that we can get through the hole. Because the thing about the self-protective, usually more self-interested, why you're go into the snack cake in the first place, is also defended and it's also supported. And this, by the way, is another hard thing to get to, but it's supported by what we call "worry, fear, or resistance", right? That if I don't do that thing, I won't be happy, I won't be satisfied, I won't feel as good. It’s, you know, in other cases it may be supported by "people won't like me" or "that'll be embarrassing" or "someone will think that's weird". And so the stuff that tends to hold us in place already has all of these players playing support roles around it. When we author this new thing that we want to be about, right, we need to get players around that and for me, that's kind of what the "why" is. It's giving some additional support to the reason that you're going to muscle through this, because I'm not a doctor in this kind of way, but when it comes to food, when it comes to alcohol, when it comes to sugar, it's also triggering things in our brain that we don't have control over that, man, that pattern needs to be broken. The pattern can be broken but a lot of times that pattern being broken depends on a choice that is made day-to-day, right, and then we get over the hump of the physical addiction to the thing that we want to change. But regardless, there's the thing that we want to be about, and there's figuring out the stuff that holds us in place. There's a reason why we want to make the change, and there's the reason why, what is supporting the thing that is holding us in place, and when we can start to get our arms around this bigger idea that it's not just a matter of putting it in place and "doggone it, I'm going to commit to it and if I get through--" Listen, if you do get through 30 days, chances are you will have overcome some of the things that were standing in your way and maybe it becomes more habitual. But honestly, you got to get over that hump of the tension, and I think the easiest way to get over the hump of the tension between the competing commitments, the two things that are working against each other, is to make them as plain as we can. And again, not to oversell the Growth Gap Tool, but I think it does a great job, even for dieting, for exercising, for deciding you want to be better at staying current with events, or reading, or writing, or whatever it is that you're trying to do as part of your New Year's resolution. There's a reason why you weren't automatically doing that prior to.

Sara Yeah, I think that's a great pivot point to the other big thing I think it's important that we talk about, is not just naming those two tensions, right? The who we want to be, and who we've been up until this point. But also this idea of making it so tangible, so realistic, not just "I want to be healthier", right? What does that mean? Healthier could be "I eat five cookies instead of six cookies, and that qualifies as healthier", right? But that's not what we're going for. And so there's both the specificity in the goal, but even more than that, there's importance in kind of smaller, time-bound small steps in reaching that goal, and we talk about it sometimes even in the language of an experiment. I heard somebody once call them, "They're not New Year's resolutions, they’re New Year New Year's experiments", and it's "I'm going to just try something" and that way, if it doesn't work, you're like, "Cool, that didn't work, let me change something and try the experiment again" versus a resolution feels like this a forever commitment to something. And so this is a really important part of what we do in our work with our clients, this idea of getting really specific about what you want to do, trying it, and then evaluating "how did it go?". And so do you want to go a little deeper for our listeners about this whole process and what makes small steps so effective?

Keith Yeah, I was hoping you might just stay on a roll and cover that for them. I mean, I'll let you jump obviously back in, but one of the things I was thinking of, as you were just speaking, is that a really important, fantastic, great "why" New Year's resolution may be, like, if you're a parent, "I want to spend more quality time with my kids", right? And yet, what it takes to get there is to engage in an experiment. It's not just setting out that from now on we're going to do whatever for eternity, right? But how do we break that down? How do we break that down in a way that it's like "On Wednesday of this week, I am going to go talk to my daughter, you know, not about something that she was supposed to do that didn't do, but to find out how she's doing." Right? "I'm going to go and have a different kind of conversation with her, but I'm only going to do that one time." Right? I'm not committing to this for the rest of the year - what I am committing to for the rest of the year, maybe, is that I'm going to spend more quality time with my kids," Right? But on Wednesday, I'm going to meet with my daughter, and then I am going to say, "how did that go? What worked about that? What did I learn new about me? What was the hardest thing for me in doing that? What's the piece of tension that I was bumping up against? How could I do it differently?”. And then set another step that would include those modifications?

So you can get in front of groups that we lead, you can get really specific and hard about what qualifies, but tell the audience a little bit about some of the key criteria for an experiment, as you called them, or a small step, as we've called them in other environments.

Sara Yeah, so the first thing is that it needs to be really specific, right? So on Wednesday, you were going to go talk to your daughter about a certain topic that's really specific. Then on Thursday I could call you and say, “Keith, did you do that thing?”. And you could tell me "yes" or "no". Here's my little cheat sheet for this, if you have the words "more", "less", "better" in your small step-- "I'm going to work out more this week" - that's not specific. How many days? What days? What time? What are you going to do? Where are you going to go? As much detail as you can give, do that because then it's like an actual science experiment where you have certain variables that you're testing to see, "does this work?". Does it work for you to have this conversation with your daughter over dinner? Well, that didn't work. Does it work with you to have this conversation in the car as you're driving her to school? OK, the tension I felt was about this thing, so how can I modify it a little bit to deal with that tension where, you know, I was afraid of how--"what if she gets really awkward about it and feels like I'm being weird?" Well, OK, next time acknowledge that it might be weird and find a way to make a joke about it. But in all these ways, naming the specifics will help you evaluate the experiment of "did it work if I tried it?”. So it's got to be specific and it's got to be measurable, right? So again, more or less, it's how many minutes, how many times, how many people etc. Get those details worked out and then it's got to be realistic, right? You can't set a goal of "every day for three hours, I'm going to sit and read a book", right? If you haven't been able to read a book at all recently, start with a smaller goals. Start with something that you really--looking at your calendar, thinking of what you have going on in the next week, what can you actually accomplish, and set that as your goal. And then the thing that you mentioned that is a really key part of this idea of setting an experiment, is taking the time to evaluate what didn't work, why didn’t it work, what worked, what didn't work. Again, learning just as much from, not only, did the experiment fail, but if you failed to do the experiment. So much that you can learn from that of what got in the way, what did you prioritize over it and then what do you do about those? And then, as you said, the question is not just how do I solve the problem but what did I learn new about me? What did I learn new about what it takes for me to take steps towards these bigger "me values" and these bigger "whys" and overcome the things that have held me in place up until this point. And those are really important.

One thing that is, well I guess there's two things that I would say to our listeners that are really helpful in this process, and maybe you can answer because you and I are wired very differently. For me, having a set plan and accountability where I'm going to check in with myself every Monday morning and look back on the past week and weekend and say, "Did I do the things I'm going to do”? I have a note on my calendar where it's like "I know I've got a deadline", And even better than that, the second thing is have somebody going along with you on this journey. Having these developmental relationships, it's like having a workout partner, an accountability partner, somebody that's going to ask you how you're doing is really helpful in processing all these different things and thinking through, "well, it didn't work and here's why it was hard" and that accountability, in a way, that's also encouraging, right? Not somebody that's just going to berate you if you don't do it, hopefully none of us would have friends that do that. But somebody that's going to say, "Yeah, last week was tough. OK, what are you going to do differently this week to try to live into your goals and your values more?" and be that encouraging voice. I think is really important.

Keith Yeah, I mean, even for me--and again, we are built very differently--you like the organization, the structure, kind of applying that to that. I want to push the developmental relationships thing, going to journey with others off to the side for just one second. For me, the way that I get over--because I resist structure, I mean, that is very often the thing that holds me in place when it comes to a New Year's resolution or any goal that has to do with discipline, right? It's like, "Oh no, that's going to box me in and that's going to take away options, that's going to--" Well, in doing that, I've identified the thing that potentially holds me in place. So rather than creating this super structure to do it, I tend to think in terms of a week. Like, "Can I do this two times this week? Can I do it one time this week? Can I do it every day this week?" Right, and so--and I usually don't constrain myself to a specific hour or something like that. I give myself a little bit of the flexibility that I enjoy, but take away enough of that flexibility that I get to bump up against "well, did that really hem me in? Did that really take away options? What did it do in terms of helping facilitate the bigger thing that I wanted to be about”, right? The resolution. And so I don't think you have to be a super-organized person to make this work but you know what you do have to do? You have to be specific and you have to be measurable and you have to be realistic and then you’ve got to evaluate it right before you take the next set of specific, measurable, realistic steps, experiments. Right? The evaluation is so key in "what did I learn new about me in terms of the thing I want to be more of?" and "what did I learn new about me in terms of what may be holding me in place? Where was I making incorrect assumptions about this?", right? "Is it harder than I thought?", "Was it not as bad as I thought?" You know, all of these different kinds of things and then that almost leads to "so what am I going to do next week?" or "what am I going to do tomorrow?" or--The biggest step I ever took at once along these lines was I decided to do something to run a 30-day experiment and for me, that was enormous. It was based on a challenge by some other people, so we can get to that in just a second. But it was during that 30 days that I was really able to dispel some of the things I assumed would be true if I engaged in a process like that. And I don't mind telling folks, I decided that I really wanted to be better at sort of reading, writing and reflecting on a daily basis, and there was a lot of bigger "me" wise in terms of what we do for a living, in terms of the kind of person I wanted to be. All of that kind of stuff. And I decided that just getting up tomorrow morning, reading, writing and reflecting was not going to bump up against the things that I thought were holding me in place enough. And so I did it for 30 days in that 30 days turned into two years with only missing a handful of days. And even in that, I was specific, measurable, I felt like it was realistic, although I was worried whether it would actually be realistic, but it was the evaluation at the end of it that allowed me to say, "No, this can be a part of the way I know myself. This can be a part of the way that I live my life," right? And so I think those criteria are really important and I just want to emphasize the word that you used if you think of this as an "experiment", that whatever stuff you're going to take as an experiment to figure out is that a good way to go about the goal? Or is it not a good way to go about the goal? Then you haven't eliminated the goal. You've just eliminated the way, right?

Sara You know sometimes those experiments even tell us that our goal isn't really what we should be aiming for, right?

Keith May lead to a modification of the goal. Yeah, totally.

Sara If you set out and say “my goal is that I want to be healthier", right, and you start making these goals and what it is, and you realize, "I really was doing that for the wrong reasons. My goal really is more about I want to be taking care of myself and my family in ways that will give us--", you know, whatever, “better quality of life or more energy or, you know, longevity--" whatever. But if you realize that over and over again, you're not progressing towards that goal, it may be that the "why" is not strong enough and therefore, "Huh, maybe that isn't what I really want my life to be about. What is something else that really matters to me?"

Keith Yeah, we've heard this come up with so many people and the example that jumps out to me has to do with what the idea of success in general, that they begin taking steps and realize that they actually had a definition of success, that ultimately they really didn't want to be about.
Sara Yeah, that's perfect. That's a great example.

Keith Yeah. So let's not lose the point about potentially doing this with others. The reality is, Sara, it is just harder to grow on our own.
Sara Yeah, and we have known people that have done it but they are the people who are just naturally wired for this stuff. You and I are a little more normal and it takes a training buddy, it takes somebody to be there alongside the journey.

Keith Yeah and isn't it funny, by the way, the people that are normally really oriented to do, let's say physical fitness or eating right or being healthy or, you know, leaning into conflict or it doesn't have to always be a physical thing, it can be anything. They are a really tiny percentage of the population that it's just almost natural to them. But it's really funny to me how often they have people around them even though they don't need them, even though they're the main driver in the relationship, but they still have people around them. And it's interesting--there's been so much research done around that we grow faster when we are doing it with others than we than we do by ourselves, and it's something that I don't understand why, but I get that it's true.

Sara Yeah, so, I won't speak for you, but I think I probably could, you know, as we launch into this New Year, our big hope for our listeners is that you all would find a way to continue to grow into the person that you want to be to identify the values that really matter to you. To lead in a direction that you are having the influence that you want to have and in order to do that, you need to do the hard work of looking at why you haven't been able to do that so far. What are the things that are holding you in place? And then creating some really tangible, structured, small steps, experiments to make progress in that journey and if possible, doing it with other people. And that's the whole reason that I do what I do. It's why we do this podcast. It's why we put on the programs that we do and that's what we want for our listeners. That's what we want for everybody that we meet, that they continue to keep growing. It's the name of our podcast, Growing as Grown-Ups, and we have resources available to you that we would love for you to take advantage of. He said it already, but the Growth Gap Tool on our website is just the most useful thing that we can put in your hands, and we want you to take advantage of that. So go to our website and download that tool.

Coming up as well, I believe on January 22nd, we are going to be doing a webinar. For those of you that want a little more help walking through the Growth Gap Tool, we've created a document that gives you all the instructions, but some people just do better with hearing us explain it. We'll be able to talk you through and give examples of each step on January 22nd, which is a Friday. We would love for you to sign up and join us for that. You can do that at Gap Tool webinar. We will be recording it and we'll figure out a way to make it available if you can't join us live.

We also have our online courses available and in the flagship course that we have right now is our Challenge to Change, which is just perfect for the new year. It's about how to really lean into the challenges in the circumstances of your life everyday and use those for growth.

And we also have an added resource - if you do have a group of people that you want to grow with, we have the team experience that you can add on that gives you discussion questions and ways that you can hold each other accountable and create that accountability and that support that will really help you on the journey.

So this is our hope for you this year. I got on my soapbox again, Keith, do you have anything else you want to add to that?

Keith Godspeed and journey well, folks, I mean, this is doable. You've got to go about it the right way, but it is doable.

Sara All right, looking forward to seeing what 2021 has for all of us and again, please go grab those resources on our website,

Keith Happy New Year, y'all.