Ah, a new year, a new chance to start fresh, another opportunity to make to New Year's resolutions, and, sadly, another year of likely failed New Year's resolutions. We want those resolutions to last, we really do, but we just can't make them stick. Well, we're not alone. Research has shown that, after six months, fewer than half the people who make New Year's resolutions have stuck with them, and, after a year, that number declines to around ten percent. Gosh, with those kinds of statistics, what's the point of even thinking about New Year's resolutions?
On the hopeful side, other research has reported that some simple strategies can help us stick with our New Year's resolutions, for example, setting specific goals, sharing our resolutions with others, and focusing on the benefits of achieving the resolution. But, even with these helpful hints, far more people fall off the New Year's resolution wagon than stay on.
I think the problem is that many of us don't understand what New Year's resolutions are about, namely, change, usually significant life change, for example, losing we ight, getting out of debt, or quitting smoking.
We want to change and there's a $2.5 billion self-help industry out there to help. Why change? Because without change, we are assured of staying just the way we are and doing things just the way we always have (which, if we're making New Year's resolutions, is not the way we want to be). Yet anyone who has ever tried to change their thinking, emotions, or behavior knows how difficult it is.
The question that must be asked is: Why do we have such a hard time making significant changes in our lives?
Obstacles to Change
Yes, change is difficult, despite the "quick and without any effort" claims of motivational speakers and self-help books. In attempting to change, we are swimming against the tide of obstacles that may have been in our way for many years.
We bring good things into adulthood from our childhood and we likely also bring some not-so-good things, what is commonly referred to as "baggage." The most common types of baggage include low self-esteem, perfectionism, fear of failure, need for control, anger, and need to please. This baggage causes us to think, feel, and behave based on who we were as children rather than who we now are as adults.
Deeply ingrained habits in the way we think, experience emotions, and behave arise out this baggage. We react to the world in certain ways because that's the way we always have; these habits produce knee-jerk reactions that are no longer healthy or adaptive.
We don't make an effort to change because of negative emotions that we are experiencing, such as fear, anger, sadness, or frustration. For example, many people don't change out of the fear of failure. They might think, "If I can't change, then I'll prove myself to be even more of a loser than I am now."
We also create an environment that helps us best manage our baggage, habits, and emotions. The people we surround ourselves with and the activities we participate in give us a sense of comfort and security that we may be reluctant to give up no matter how much we may want to change.
Foundation of Change
Change starts with a simple, yet powerful, epiphany that comes from a very deep and personal place inside of us: "I just can't continue down this same road any longer."
Emotions can be potent motivators for change, whether positive, such as hope, inspiration, or pride, or negative, such as fear (e.g., of losing a job).
Courage is essential because change requires risk and risk is scary. Courage to change means the willingness to acknowledge and confront aspects of ourselves that we may not know about or may not like.
Because change is uncertain, the only way to change is to take a leap of faith that involves a fundamental belief in the vision of who, what, and where we want to be in the future.
Finally, we need an unwavering determination to resist the obstacles and pursue our goals. This resolve motivates us to engage in the moment-to-moment process of change, especially when it gets difficult.
Process of Change
The steps I just described set the stage for change, but the real work lies ahead. Change takes time; I have found that when someone makes a deep commitment to change, they can expect to see positive and lasting change in 6-12 months.
Pinpoint obstacles: Specify what the baggage, habits, emotions, and environment are that are keeping us from our goals.
Identify best practices: Explore how others have successfully made changes in the areas we would like to change.
Environment: Create an environment (i.e., people, surroundings, and activities) that support and encourage our efforts.
Change goals: Establish clear objectives for what areas we want to change, how we will change them, and the ultimate outcome we want to achieve.
Action steps: Describe the specific steps we will take to counter our old baggage, habits, fears, and environment, and pursue our change goals.
Forks in the road: Recognize that we have choices in which road we can take and can choose the good road toward positive change.
Three Ps: We need to make change an ever-present part of our life. Every time we miss an opportunity for change, we further ingrain our old baggage, habits, and emotions.
Persistence means we must maintain our determination to achieve our goals consistently.
Perseverance refers to our ability to respond positively to setbacks we will surely experience in the change process.
Patience is a constant reminder that change takes time and that if we maintain our commitment, we will make the changes we want.
So, New Year's resolutions can have a happy ending, but only if we realize that they are about change and that change is far from easy. So the choice is ours. We can embrace the true nature of New Year's resolutions and throw ourselves, mind, spirit, and body into them. Or, if we can't, perhaps it's best to skip New Year's resolutions this year. We may not make the changes we want, but at least we won't have to face the disappointment that comes with another year of unfulfilled resolutions.