4 Key Principles to Making Change Stick
You know how it goes: this time of year, everyone’s feeling fresh and motivated with new year’s resolutions. Yet somehow, even before February rolls around, all the determination seems to evaporate and people are back to their bad old habits. The quest for dreams, goals and a few lost pounds gets deferred to next year.
How does that happen?
The trouble is, making a fresh start is easy. Beginning anew with a grand plan is fun and exciting. It’s the sticking to it that’s more of a challenge. I myself have noticed that sticking to lifestyle changes feels so impossible that I actually end up mocking the very idea of making a resolution in the first place.
If you also find yourself cynical about the possibility of change, it may be time to resurrect those old resolutions – only this time, I’d like to share some secrets of what makes one resolution stick and another wither by January 25th.
1. Find Your Big “Why”
“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.” ~ Viktor Frankl
That people are lazy and need to trick themselves into being better is one of the biggest misconceptions about goal-setting. Understanding your underlying “why” is one of the most important things you can do when making plans.
No behaviour will stick without the engine of a good reason powering it along. Unless you can identify and connect with a real motivation, your resolutions lack gravity and heart, and will disappear at the first sign of temptation.
So what can you do?
Picture this: it’s 6:00 am, it’s cold and dark, and you’ve resolved to take a run every morning. Which is more likely to get you out of bed: some vague reason like “exercise is good” or a real, personal reason like “Exercising now means I’ll live longer and can be a good role model for my daughter, who means more to me than anything in the world”?
2. Make it Social
“Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.” ~ Henry Ford
When we labour away in private with our own demons, it’s easy to think that we’re the only ones concerned with being better along with our own private fears. When I reach out to others though, I find something endlessly inspiring: a shared human experience.
Don’t walk alone. Other people with the same intention as you can support you and even better – they can celebrate with you when you achieve that goal.
On a more practical note, working on your goals together with someone else is a great way to make sure you’re being held accountable for your commitments.
3. Don’t Forget to Take a Step Back
“Stop setting goals. Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them.” ~ Stephen Covey
I know I can get carried away with perfectionistic thinking. Here’s a secret though: the people who make lasting and beneficial changes to their lives are pretty flexible about it. What do I mean?
A goal that you force your life to fit into is not going to last long. Only those resolutions that actually make sense for you as you are right now are going to work. So, take the time to regularly check in with yourself. The big question is – is this actually working?
If not, kill the goal and move on to find something that does work. Resolutions shouldn’t be punishments. Regularly appraising where you are, even assessing why you’ve failed and how you can do better, is part of a healthy, ongoing process of change. Be curious about how you work. Be curious about what works for you.
4. Keep Returning to the Watering Well
“Rest when you’re weary. Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, your spirit. Then get back to work. “~ Ralph Marston
A good red flag that you’re about to start slipping on your resolutions is the feeling that you need massive amounts of willpower to keep going. Be smart about how you spend your resources – your mental and emotional resources, that is.
Tapping yourself out energy-wise on difficult tasks only makes it easier for you to sabotage gradual, lasting change. Instead, find out what it is that recharges your batteries and allows you to keep going long term.
I love how cleansed and refreshed I feel after a hot yoga session, and I also find that running leaves me feeling that anything is possible. I try to channel that energy into my goals, but what works will be different for everyone. Go for a long walk alone, attend a dance class or embroider a cushion, it doesn’t matter. By taking regular breaks and filling ourselves up again, we approach our goals fresh.
Lastly, use the resources you have at your disposal.
I’ve had positive experiences using the Habit List app for the iPhone and would recommend it to anyone. You set up goals and use the app to track your progress, including seeing how long a “streak” you can maintain of new behaviour, plus manageable To Do lists that are focused in the present moment.
Over time, you can track and chart your progress – just the thing to convince you otherwise on those days you feel stuck. There are loads of similar apps out there, take a look.
Sadly, it’s not enough to just make the resolution and hope for the best. I know this and I’m sure you do, too. If you’re serious about change, I find the best way to reach your goals is to make goals that are innately reachable: connect with others, keep rested and energized, frequently re-appraise your progress and most importantly, keep your eye on your big why.
Happy new year everybody!
To your health & happiness,