Resolute Resolutions: 5 Steps to Long-Lasting Change
First of all, Happy New Year!
"New Year, New You" is a common phrase heard around this time of the year. This is often followed by a New Year's resolution to better ourselves. However, as some of you may know, the majority of resolutions do not last into February, let alone the whole year.
A new year can be a beneficial time to reflect; both on the previous year and the changes we would like to make moving forward. It's totally normal to want to make changes in our lives, but how we do it is just as important as what we want the outcome to be. Here is my round up of some things to consider to make your resolution stick this year.
1. Don't make a New Year's resolution. This may seem counter-intuitive given the title of this article, but hear me out. The most sustainable changes are made when we are ready to make them. Choosing an arbitrary day to overhaul our lives is one of the primary reasons resolutions fail in the first place. Before making any decisions, think about whether or not you have what you need in place to make a change; a support system is often an important aspect of this, as is mental preparedness. Think about what else you have going on in your life. Is it a busy time at work? A time of transition? Do have relative stability in your day to day life? Is now the best time to make changes? It's okay to put it off. Change can happen at any time throughout the year, what matters most is you.
2. Be specific. It is tempting to make a resolution such as, read or move your body more, however; these goals do not provide specific information about what you want to achieve. It's important to know when our goal has been met and that's not possible if we don't know what completion looks like! Instead of saying "read more" you might consider "read one book a week" or "read 20 books in 2017." This process also helps us determine if our goals are attainable because they deconstruct what we want to be doing differently. Think about if you have time to read each week or if there is something more manageable that would be more appropriate.
3. Think about why. Why do you want to change? Do you feel you need to make a resolution because it's New Years? Are you being influenced by your friends, family and/or other external sources? Before embarking on any change it's important to examine the reason we want the change to occur in the first place. Change is most successful when it's internally motivated, meaning we truly want to better ourselves because the change would contribute to our own happiness rather than please others.
4. Set Up Rewards. Have you ever seen a dolphin show at the aquarium? After the dolphins have completed a trick they are rewarded with some yummy fish. The fish they receive reinforces the behaviour and increases the likelihood that the dolphin will perform similarly in the future. Humans are a lot like dolphins in that we are more likely to continue a behaviour if we are rewarded for our progress. So celebrate your successes! One way to do this is to break down a bigger goal into smaller goals. For the previous example of reading more, this would look like rewarding yourself after reading one book or a certain number of chapters. Helpful hint: everyone is rewarded differently, find something that works for you.
5. Be kind to yourself. Change is hard and I guarantee that you will experience failure along the way. This isn't meant to be discouraging, but exactly the opposite! It is really common to fail when making changes and this is okay. Long-lasting change comes after weathering our failures and continuing to move forward with self-compassion.