Skip the Resolutions: 6 Simple Steps to Ensure Lasting Change
By M. Carolyn Miller
As the New Year begins, thoughts often turn to the days ahead and the resolutions that will invariably accompany it.
If you’re already making your list, you might want to consider this: only 19 percent of people keep their New Year’s Resolutions for more than a year, according to researchers at the University of Scranton in New York.
The rest of us, well, we last about a week.
Does this mean you’re doomed to carry those 20 extra pounds around forever? Not necessarily.
Step No. 1: Change Your Attitude
Creating lasting change starts by owning “what is,” such as the part-time job you dislike, or the extra weight you’ve had since you delivered your last baby. And while you may blame your kids, your parents, or your partner for “what is,” each circumstance is a direct result of your thoughts, feelings and actions.
For instance, in the case of the extra weight, you may think, “I’ll never lose it,” so you go ahead and have that piece of pie. As a result, “what is” continues.
New circumstances demand that you tell yourself a new story. More so, they demand that you trade in the role of helpless victim to that of empowered hero, out to save yourself from your current circumstance.
Step No. 2: Pick One Goal & Narrow It Down
Most people make a “wish list” of everything they want to accomplish and then never look at the list again, much less start it. Call it the “Overwhelm Blues.”
Avoid that blues by identifying one goal that, if accomplished, will have the most impact on your life.
That’s the mega-goal you start with.
- Make your mega-goal specific and add a deadline
- Break your mega-goal down into mini-goals with mini-deadlines
- Break your mini-goals down into specific behaviors to implement, again, with deadlines
- Implement the mini-goal behaviors until you reach your mini-goal
- Repeat the above until your mega-goal is accomplished.
For instance, if your mega-goal is to lose 20 pounds by summer, your mini-goals might be related to exercise and diet. Your “exercise” mini-goal might include specific behaviors you’ll implement, such as attending an aerobics class three times a week and walking daily.
Step No. 3: Set the Stage for Success
Changing habits begins by putting structures in place that disrupt old habits and encourage new ones. It also involves removing distractions, that is, anything that distracts you from your goal.
For instance, if you want to lose weight, structures might include:
- Rearranging the pantry so that healthy food is more accessible
- Throwing out junk food and/or sweets so you won’t eat them
- Planning the week’s menu to avoid unhealthy, last-minute options
- Making a weekly date with a walking buddy
- Signing up for a class at the gym
To identify distractors, ask yourself:
- Does that activity help me achieve my goal?
- Does this activity have value, such as researching a new babysitter?
- Am I taking part in this activity to please others?
- Does this activity bring me genuine pleasure or provide some intangible benefit?
Step No. 4: Visualize the New You
Now comes the fun part. Take a sheet of paper and write out how your life would be different if you accomplished your goal. For instance, “It is X months from now and I’ve accomplished my goal….”
Specifically, ask yourself:
- What would I look/feel like?
- How would my lifestyle change?
- What would I do differently?
- What would my attitude be like?
- How would I move in the world differently?
- What would others say or how would they perceive me?
Once you’ve written your visualization, summarize it in one or two sentences, such as “Every day, my new job is making itself known to me.” Say it often and look for clues that it is becoming a reality, such as the idea to email a former boss for contacts.
Step No. 5: Face Down Your Fears
Fear and doubts—of success or failure—are a natural part of creating lasting change. They will show you where the landmines to creating lasting change are.
But such fear and doubts are just “stories” we make up to stay safe and live small. They are false conclusions based on your experiences, your family’s programming, and even larger religious and social conditioning.
For instance, in the example of losing weight, if diets have failed in the past, your “story” may be that you’ll fail again. A sister or mother supports that “story” by telling you another story, “It’s just in our genes to carry more weight than other people.”
But you have a choice. You can choose to believe that current fiction (and be a victim to it) or you can create a new and more empowering story, as women who have changed their lives and history have done.
To do that:
- Record the “Yes, but…” tapes that rise up when you envision your goal met, such as:
- “Yes, but…if I try to lose weight, how do I know I won’t fail again?
- “Yes, but…if I do find a new job, what if I hate it too?”
- “Yes, but…if I do volunteer, what if it takes up too much time?
- Get under the “Yes, but” tapes to identify the deeper beliefs, which often center on being deserving and having value. Examples include “I don’t deserve to be thin,” or “I’m not smart enough to ace that college entrance exam.”
- Once you identify those deeper beliefs, change them using journaling, meditation, art, yoga and other more intuitive tools.
- To dislodge more stubborn beliefs, consider working with a therapist or coach.
Step 6: Work Your Plan and Celebrate Incremental Success
Lasting change takes time and occurs in incremental steps. You start with one mini-goal, and incorporate its related behaviors.
Then you start on the next mini-goal and incorporate its behaviors.
You continue until all your mini-goals have been met.
Along the way, celebrate your accomplishments. Such celebrations will act as milestones for the positive change you’ve incorporated, and keep you going.
And don’t be surprised if, one day you wake up and realize all your mini-goals have been accomplished and the lasting change you desired so long ago has become part of your life and lifestyle.
About the Author:
M. Carolyn Miller, MA, is an award-winning writer and psychology junkie who lives, plays and love in Portland, Oregon. Check out her website at www.cultureshape.com.