Why is it once a year people decide to ‘do something different’? What’s so special about a New Year? Maybe I’m just getting old. People struggle with sticking to their New Year’s resolutions, why is that?
Well, the problem isn’t so much related to sticking to the resolution, the problem is only consciously deciding to make a big change once a year. Change is constant and requires a great deal of mental energy and discipline which makes sticking to resolutions that much more difficult because most people haven’t practiced making smaller changes more often.
In the book “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard“, Chip and Dan Heath talk about the conflict in human brains that makes change hard. Our rational mind wants to stop eating junk food and drop some some weight to look better. Our emotional mind wants to eat that Big Mac. There’s no need to feel discouraged if you can’t stick to your New Years resolution, you’re not a bad person. You’re not un-disciplined or lazy, you’re simply out of practice and it’s hard to make a big bang change like eating better, quitting smoking/drinking or going back to the gym.
Understanding the conflict between your rational and emotional mind is a good first step. It helped me understand that the way I think is simply how my brain is wired and boosted my self-esteem by helping me recognize I’m not lazy or a bad person, I just need to learn how to deal with change more effectively.
“Switch” has a great framework for making changes stick so if you’re an NT (Intuitive Thinker) or an intellectual, it’s a great read. If you’re more like me and just want something quick to start out with, try this:
- Set an annual or quarterly goal. I suppose this will depend on what you’re trying to change. If you eat McDonald’s 5 times a week maybe breaking that habit will take more than a quarter! Set a realistic goal you can accomplish in the timeframe you’ve set out and plan to reward yourself if you stick to it.
- Distill the annual/quarterly goal into weekly initiatives. For example, if you eat McDonald’s 5 times per week, in week one only eat there 4 times per week. In the next week reduce it to 3 times a week. You can even put aside the money saved towards that reward at the end of the quarter.
- Reflect more often: After each week, write something in an ‘inspiration’ journal or blog about your success. Use this journal or blog for inspiration when your emotional mind trys to drag you back to to McDonalds for the 5th time!
- Be Visible! Use sticky notes and put them on the fridge or any other high traffic area that will help you stick to your weekly goal. This can be as simple as tracking trips to McDonalds so you know when you’ve hit your quota or using the inspiration notes from your journal to remind yourself that last week when you only went to McDonalds once you felt more healthy.
Most importantly, don’t bite off more than you can chew. There’s no need to be un-realistic about what you want to change just because it feels good to say it or think it. You are accountable to you and you only and the only person you can’t lie to is yourself. If this approach sounds good, recognize that using this approach is a change on it’s own. Now you’ve got to try this ‘change framework‘ while using it to guide you through the actual change you want to make. Deep huh?
Take a small step. Celebrate your success. Reflect and make another small change. Repeat this pattern often. Taking this approach will help you stick to your resolution and build self-esteem which is going to have great, positive short and long-term effects in your personal and professional life.