If you are like most people, you made a long list of resolutions for the new year. Your list may include everything from losing weight or quitting smoking to finding a new job, taking your business in new directions, learning a language, not procrastinating, having more patience with your kids, finishing your degree, spending less money, or finally learning how to use that %&@#^$@$ computer properly.
Whatever your resolutions, it is likely that they will not survive to see February. Most people who solemnly list all the ways they are going to improve themselves give up all too soon. Not only are they still stuck with their bad habits, they also have a sense of failure hanging over them.
There is nothing wrong with making resolutions. However, trying to completely change your life over night is usually doomed to failure. The exception is when there is a powerful motivating force, such as the need to make lifestyle changes due to a major illness. Change or die can be a powerful motivation.
For most of us, though, the motivation to uphold our New Year’s resolutions is nowhere near that strong. And, when it gets hard it is easier to just quit.
I do not say this to discourage you, but to show you that there is a better way. Here are some tips to make changes in your life that will stick.
Changes do not have to start on January 1st. Yes, it is a new beginning, but any day can be a new beginning. You know, “today is the first day of the rest of your life,” and all that. The best time to make a change is always today, whether today is January 1 or June 8 or any other day.
Do not try to change everything in your life at once. Choose one small thing and change it, one thing you will do everyday. You can set yourself up for failure by trying to do to many things at once.
Make incremental changes. Instead of going on a crash diet, change some of your choices. Eat a little less at each meal, substitute a low-cal treat for dessert, cut out that late-night snack, etc. You do not even have to do all of these at once. Try adding one change every week or so.
You will never be perfect, so do not expect perfection. Yes, you will slip up sometimes. Well, you are human. We all make mistakes and bad choices at times. Accept responsibility, but do not beat yourself up over it. Just go on doing your best.
Choose something you will do instead of the habit you want to change. One treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is to divert the urge to do the compulsive behavior to another activity. So, instead of washing their hands again, or checking that the stove is really off when they know that it is, the OCD patient tells himself or herself that they do not need to do the thing their brain is telling them to do, it is only a manifestation of their illness. Then they do something else, such as play the piano, work in the garden or other physical activity. You do not have to have OCD to benefit from this kind of therapy. The next time you find yourself about to fall in to your old habit, catch yourself and divert your attention to the new activity. Instead of mindlessly parking yourself in front of the television, take a walk, play with your kids, take a language lesson on your computer or anything else that works for you.
Stick with it for at least three weeks. There is a body of research that claims that if you can do something for 21 days, it has now become a habit. There is nothing magical about 21 days. Some habits take less time to develop and others take more. The point is that after some period of time and action becomes almost automatic. The same idea applies when trying to learn a new skill, too. It can be frustrating at first, because it may not come naturally. However, if you stick with it and practice, you can learn just about anything. (Take a look at this post about how to learn anything in 20 hours.)
Watch out for negative talk. The people around you may try to discourage you. It may be that they are jealous, or afraid or unwilling to face change themselves. Their reasons do not matter. If you believe that family, friends or co-workers may try to sabotage your efforts, do not talk to them about what you are doing. And do not sabotage yourself by saying things such as, “I knew I couldn’t do this,” or “I can’t seem to do anything right,” or “I will never be able to do this.”
Get support from like-minded people. Even if your goals are not the same, working with a friend and holding each other accountable helps to keep you on track. It can be as simple as telling each other what change you are working on that week, then touching base at the end of the week to share how you did. Just knowing that you will report your progress to someone can help keep you on the right track.
Just do it. The best way to make any change is simply to decide to change, then change. If you really want it, you will make it happen.