- Change is more successful with small, consistent steps rather than drastic measures.
- Involving others in goal-setting can enhance commitment and increase the chances of success.
- The strategic problem solving model offers a structured approach for achieving New Year's resolutions.
"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." —French Proverb (The more things change, the more they remain the same.)
As the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, a wave of anticipation and hope will probably sweep across the globe. It's not just the allure of a new year, but the promise of a fresh start, a blank slate, the hope of a new start for our aspirations and our yet-to-be-achieved change.
New Year's resolutions embody this spirit of renewal, offering a time-honoured tradition where we pause, reflect, and set our goals for the year ahead. Whether it's adopting healthier habits, pursuing personal growth, or tackling long-standing dreams, these resolutions represent our innate desire for positive change and self-improvement.
However, despite our best intentions, many of us find ourselves entangled in the familiar cycle of setting ambitious goals only to see them dissipate as the year progresses. At the heart of New Year's resolutions is the ability to decide and maintain change, learning how to break the cycle of unfulfilled promises and make this year's resolutions stick.
Change Is Hard
This oft-repeated mantra resonates, especially when it comes to New Year's resolutions and change. But does it always ring true? Statistics reveal a grim reality: The average American struggles with the same resolution for a decade without success. In life and business, we often see that change is viewed as daunting and frequently approached with quick-fix solutions. However, the philosophy of small steps towards significant achievements challenges this view. Our brains are pattern-making machines and have a preference for the gradual transformation of these patterns, which renders change more manageable. For example, simply standing regularly or pacing can easily improve health by significantly increasing our metabolic rate, contradicting the belief that only major efforts yield meaningful results. Small, consistent steps can affect substantial changes, from breaking harmful habits to cultivating positive ones, both in personal life and at work.
Change, while inherently challenging due to our brain's evolutionary makeup, can be navigated successfully with the right strategies. Understanding the interplay of different parts of our brain in response to change and adopting a methodical approach such as the one I will explore in this post, can transform the intimidating process of change into a manageable and rewarding journey and we must begin by breaking the larger picture into smaller, achievable pieces and so aligning with our natural neurobiological inclination towards change. This perspective on change not only makes it less daunting but also more achievable, opening up a world of possibilities for those willing to take that first small step.
I've long been captivated by personal change such as individuals overcoming unhealthy habits to lead better lives, shy people transforming into confident communicators, and lifelong learners mastering new skills. These stories of transformation beg the question: How do individuals achieve and sustain personal success? I've seen clients adopt a simple yet profound method for lasting personal change, from overcoming anxiety to cultivating fulfilling relationships and maintaining emotional well-being and most change seems to occur indirectly through direct methods. That is they create a context or an environment that stimulates change to occur it's rarely forced, except in circumstances where all possible outcomes and resources are known at the outset. Change, a natural part of life, often evokes fear, whether it's a minor event or a major life change. This fear stems from how our brains evolved, making change daunting and sometimes stifling creativity.
The Biology of Fear and the Consequences for Change
Our brain has developed into three parts, each with unique functions. The reptilian brain controls basic life functions, while the mammalian brain is responsible for emotions and the fight-or-flight response, which is critical in dangerous situations. The cortex, the newest development, is the center of rational thought and creativity. These brain parts sometimes conflict, affecting our reactions to change. The amygdala in the midbrain, which manages the fight-or-flight response, can interpret new experiences as threats, triggering fear and hindering clear thinking. Overcoming this response is essential for embracing change. Small, incremental steps can disarm the fear response, fostering rational thinking and creativity. By adopting a gradual approach to change, we align with our brain's evolutionary design, navigating changes more effectively and reducing the impact of our survival instincts. This strategy aids in overcoming change-related fear.
Strategies for Achieving Your Resolutions This New Year
Being strategic in our problem-solving means using a deliberate and structured approach to achieving lasting change by stimulating an environment in which our goals become more likely. I have applied this approach to multiple contexts and it has proven itself indispensable. Here are the seven steps to achieving change.
- Define Your Problem in Concrete Terms: You should at the outset clearly define your resolution and understand the current state and barriers to achieving it. Adopt different perspectives for additional insights, thinking how other people you know might think about or perceive the problem you see will also help you see possible options. The lack of a clearly defined problem means we don’t know what steps to take next, so it’s very important.
- Agreeing On Your Goal: Set measurable, achievable targets, and involve others in your goal-setting process. Involving others triggers the social pressure effect, where if you commit to something to others, you will be more likely to do it, such as joining the gym with a friend.
- Identify Dysfunctional Solutions: Reflect on past attempts to solve the problem and how your solutions may be worsening your problem. Learn from failures and successes. It’s not uncommon that problems dissolve as soon as we realise that our solutions are often at the heart of creating them. For instance, if we believe that abstinence and avoiding food will assist in losing weight, the likelihood is that the more we abstain from eating the more we lose control of our appetite, so the solution in that situation usually perpetuates weight gain.
- The Technique of How to Worsen: Use reverse psychology to identify unhelpful habits and create an aversion to negative behaviours. By using this uncommon strategy of asking yourself to list all the ways you could choose to worsen your current problem or listing the things you know you could do to ensure you never achieve your goal, you will most likely and paradoxically discover ways to avoid worsening your problem and see ways to achieve your goal.
- The Scenario Beyond the Problem: Visualize the success you want and consider any potentially unwanted side effects once you reach your desired goal. This will assist you in overcoming obstacles and foreseeing potential pitfalls in advance. It will also assist in deciding if the route you are on is the right one.
- The Mountain Climber Technique: Just as those intrepid mountain climbers trace and plan a route from the top to the bottom of Everest in reverse order breaking it into different stages, try to break down your resolution into smaller, achievable steps and plan backwards from your ultimate goal, seeing that as step at the top of the 'ladder' all the way back to step one.
- Adjust your approach based on progress. Whether it's enhancing fitness, acquiring a new skill, or altering dietary habits, this approach should provide a clear pathway from a goal to actualizing it, dissecting the problem, setting clear goals, assessing past strategies, and planning the journey in manageable steps, thereby significantly enhancing the chances of maintaining and achieving resolutions. At each stage, ensure that you adjust your strategy as you achieve positive outcomes in each of the steps or as you discover anything that works better or becomes a problem.
This approach aligns with the principles of behavioural psychology, which underscore the importance of clear goals, self-monitoring, and gradual progression in habit formation and behavioural change. If you can follow these steps effectively, your New Year's resolutions can move from failed fantasy to tangible reality.
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