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Are you still keeping your New Year’s Resolutions for 2009? A quick show of hands please. To the valiant few with hands aloft, congratulations. For the rest of us mere mortals, don’t despair. A study by clinical psychologists at the University of Scranton showed that of people making a resolution, only 75% made it past the first week and less than 50% were maintaining their resolution after 6 months. New Year’s Resolutions are one way that we try to make our lives happier, so how can we improve our chances of keeping them?
Making a resolution is usually a commitment to a lasting behavioural change – whether it be exercising more, eating healthily or changing the balance of how we spend our time. Changing ingrained habits and behaviour can be extremely difficult.
New Year’s Resolutions are typically an all or nothing immediate leap into the deep end of change. They are the equivalent of putting all your chips on number 23 at the roulette wheel of life. Psyhcologists who have studied successful change have found that taking a longer-term approach which has a clear strategy can dramatically improve our odds of successfully changing.
The powerful “States of Change” model created by James Prochaka and Carlo diClemente in the 1970s outlines a robust six step approach to making lasting personal change. Following these steps with due care and effort has been proven to increase the chances of making a successful change:
Step 1: Precontemplation. Prior to making a change we need to admit we have something to change. In this stage we have yet to admit that something is worth changing, although the issue may be buzzing around in the back of our mind. This stage is sometimes thought of as being “in denial” due to our claims that a pattern or behaviour is not a problem.
Step 2: Contemplation. During this stage, we start to consider the benefits of making a change, however we often focus on the downsides. This creates fear of change and can lead to extended procrastination and delay before moving forward. The contemplation stage is about admitting that we want to change and seeing the positives of the change (for example, if I were to lose weight I would feel healthier, happier and fit into my old clothes in the wardrobe).
Some of the key questions to answer at this stage are:
What is your motivation for wanting to change?
What are some of the benefits of changing?
What may be holding you back from changing?
What are some factors that could assist you in making a change?
Step 3: Preparation. During this phase, we start lay the groundwork for the wider change ahead. We may start to introduce smaller changes into our life. For example, if you are planning to get fitter, you might start walking to the next bus stop each day on the way to work. This stage requires creating our plans for a successful change. Good preparation is vital to success and some of the key things to do include:
- Find people with a similar goal that might support you, or find others to hold you accountable.
- Research as much as you can about the area you want to make a change in – find out about others who have been successful in making the same change and how they did it.
- Identify and write down your motivation and inspiration for making the change.
- Create a clear plan for change and design a process for monitoring and rewarding progress.
- Design contingency plans for “falling off the wagon” and prepare yourself for this happening.
Step 4: Taking action. This is where the rubber hits the road. If your preparation has been thorough, you’ll start executing on your plan and using your support systems. Its important to take action in the knowledge that changing personal habits takes dedication and time to achieve. Ingraining a new habit can take months or even years to achieve and will almost inevitably involve ups and downs along the path. This step will need you to reward success and forgive yourself for slip-ups.
Step 5: Maintenance. Once you’ve taken action successfully, you’ll start to see the fruits of your labours. If you’re objective was to stop smoking, you may last a day, or a week without a cigarette. The key to maintenance is to find ways to avoid being tempted to relapse (for example, avoiding a trip to the pub with your old smoking buddies) and rewarding yourself for success (for example, treat yourself to a massage to relieve the stress of nicotine withdrawal).
Step 6: Relapse. Relapse is a normal and inevitable part of making a life change. If not managed correctly, relapse can undermine all the good work that you have put in, and take away the self-confidence you’ve built up. The key to moving through a relapse is to understand the reason for falling down, and to work out the best way to avoid a repeat. Remembering that everyone who has successfully made a change has been through this process can be helpful in forgiving yourself. Once you’ve understood the relapse, it is best to go back to the preparation phase and “get back on the horse”.
Finally, the best chance of keeping your resolution in 2010, is to start at Step 1 today. Following the six-step change model above, and particularly focusing on the preparation phase prior to jumping in, is proven to increase your chance of making a lasting change in your life. So get started on making 2010 your best year yet!
If you missed our three step guide to Thinking Big for the next decade, click here to get started….