When the calendar turns to a new year, some people find it a time of renewal, making resolutions to shed bad habits or acquire new, healthier routines. Others steadfastly refuse to make resolutions, noting that they simply don’t work. By the time February rolls around, many of the people in the “make resolutions” crowd have moved over to the “resolutions don’t work” camp. Sound familiar?
Yet, the desire to change often remains, leaving individuals frustrated and disappointed. As a coach, I see many clients who berate themselves for not having enough willpower and declare themselves failures. The question that generally follows is “what is wrong with me?”
The truth is, having difficulty making changes has little to do with willpower, failure, or because something being wrong with you. Rather, it is far more likely that your approach to change needs to be fine-tuned. To make changes that last, a thoughtful and effective process is needed. Five strategies essential to that process include:
- Be specific. Big changes like “I will be organized” or “I will be more productive” make it difficult to know where to start. And, it’s hard to measure progress on those broad statements. Instead, take the big goal and break it down into very specific habits or behavioral changes. For example, you may realize that being late to meetings is a factor that affects your productivity. Instead of resolving to “be more productive,” you could identify “making it all meetings on time” as one of the changes to be made.
- Build on current successes. If you are doing something well, do more of it. Analyze how you successfully maintain other positive habits and how you might already be successful (even occasionally) with the change you want to make. Consider how you can apply this information to plan your new habit. For example, imagine you are chronically late but make it to some meetings on time. How have you planned or prepared to make it on time? Can you use some of those methods to make it to more meetings on time?
- Identify potential barriers to change. It is exciting to think about what life will be like when a change takes hold. It is less fun to think about what may stand in the way of change. However, anticipating and planning for how you will work through potential barriers will help you stay on course for achieving change. For example, if you want to be more punctual to meetings, a barrier may be that you are uncomfortable ending conversations with a long-winded client. In anticipation of this barrier, you might practice how you will end the conversation or seek advice on how to do so.
- Create a step-by-step plan. Now that you know specifically what you want to change and have identified your strengths and potential barriers, you are ready to put together a step-by-step plan. This requires asking yourself “to make this change, what do I do first?”, “what comes next?” and so on. Writing down the steps can help you see if there are any gaps in the plan. Include deadlines for each step to help track your progress. This plan may need to be updated as you put your plan into action.
- Enlist support. Telling others about your goals for change can help deepen your commitment to your goals and increase your sense of accountability. Identify trusted friends, colleagues, or family members who will encourage you when you are doing well and when you struggle. Tell your support system what is helpful and what is not. For example, if you don’t want colleagues asking about your goal every day, let them know how often you would like to check in.
As you can see, making a change that lasts is like learning a new skill or craft; it is a process that requires a plan and practice. Difficulties are not a reflection of your success or failure as a person, your willpower, or your character; they are simply input to your plan for change.
Using these five strategies, you will have a strong base to begin (or re-start!) your change process. What change do you want to make this year?