Each January, with the clean slate of a new year ahead of us, we resolve to make a change or two in our lives. You know what I’m talking about — the infamous New Year’s resolution. While I am sure there are some people out there who have succeeded in these annual improvement programs, most of us have a different experience: a week or two of ambitious work, followed by an excuse to fall off the wagon, and then shame and defeat. This is why my gym is always packed the first week of January, then back to normal levels by the end of the month.
I’m not going to say that New Year’s resolutions are bad. In my opinion, anything that inspires you to try to better yourself (whether its an annual holiday or a full moon) is a good thing. I will say, though, that putting yourself through a process that you expect will lead to defeat and shame is NOT a good thing; so if this has been your New Year’s experience, it’s time to launch a meta-resolution and change your approach to change. Here are 6 ways to get started:
- Really define your motivation. Write it down. Make it visual and visceral. If you are trying to lose weight (one of the most popular resolutions), don’t just say “for my health.” Actually define the things that will be different when you lose the weight, such as, “Being able to take a 5-mile hike with my kids and still have the energy to go out to dinner.”
- Set a realistic deadline. 21 days is a myth. In fact, research shows it takes 2-8 months to actually execute a lasting change (read about it here.) Think August, not February.
- Acknowledge that this will be hard. Certainly some changes are harder than others, but one of the biggest mistakes we make is pretending the change will take little effort. In fact, we are layering a new behavior on top of our already busy lives — that takes a lot of energy. Allow for it.
- Be willing to take baby steps. If we’ve set a realistic deadline, then we can make changes in smaller increments. That might seem too easy at first, but by week 3 (when we typically start to backslide), you’ll think differently. Take the easy days as wins!
- Plan incremental celebrations. Decide on 3-5 small goals and how you will celebrate each one; then CELEBRATE. Making change is hard, so you deserve it!
- Select a good, positive support network. It might be one person, or it might be a group, but your support network should give you positive reasons to keep on your path. Avoid anyone who tries to motivate you through shame — during the rough patches, you’re going to be hard enough on yourself. You don’t need someone else piling on.
So as you begin thinking about your 2017 New Year’s resolutions, think too about your change process. Consider kicking the usual shame and defeat out the door — that’s a lasting change you can feel good about, and the start to a better year.
PS – If you are tackling something especially big, consider using a professional coach. We are experts in positive support and accountability that leads to lasting change.
For more articles like this, follow me on LinkedIn.