With 2017 coming to an end in just a few short days, many of us are preparing for a 2018 that will include significant life changes.
Creating a New Year’s Resolution can be a great way for some people to take advantage of a deadline to finally make a change that they have been mulling over for some time. For most, creating a resolution is rushed and often ends in failure. Studies show that 80% of New Year’s Resolutions fail by February and other studies indicate that only 8% of people are successful in accomplishing their resolutions. This brings up the question, what happens when people make their New Year’s Resolutions? Are the goals they are making too lofty? Are they not committed? Do they really want to make a change?
From my perspective, the answer is probably ‘none of the above.’ Rather, these statistics suggest that it’s much harder to make a change than people think. The change process is complex and for sustained change, significant work needs to be done preparing to take action. Slowing down the change process by spending more time thinking this through will help make a long-lasting change.
What often happens when people make a New Year’s Resolution is that they do so when they have fleeting motivation. This is when someone has motivation in the moment to make a change; it feels exciting to them, they see the benefits that their life will have, and they quickly make a commitment. But something happens shortly after starting that puts them back where they started and failure begins to set in.
So what if I have a New Year’s Resolution or just want to make a life style change?
Think. ‘Constructively Think’ about the reason why you want to make this change. By doing this, you will be prepared to make a well-informed decision. Or, you may decide that you aren’t ready or this isn’t the right time, and that’s OK! Lifestyle changes are difficult and sometimes other areas in your life needs to be addressed first.
Let’s walk through how you can ‘Constructively Think’.
What are the benefits?
Let’s look at what your life will look like if you make this change. Think very specifically how you will benefit. What will you get out of this? How might this change impact those around you? Exploring the benefits on the surface level is easy, but creating a thorough list of all of the benefits will help to push you towards taking action. Early on, there are typically obvious benefits, but think about some of the indirect benefits of making this change. Usually once someone starts, they begin to see benefits that they never would have thought about and these usually help to sustain motivation. Try to go down the rabbit hole and envision, in depth, what your life will look like. This is the area that begins the motivation process, if there are no benefits that you can see it will be extremely difficult to have sustained change.
What will be difficult?
Think about what is going to be difficult about making this change. This may seem unnatural to think about the negatives, but this is important towards making a well informed decision and being prepared for change. Let’s be realistic, there are reasons why you have not attempted to or been successful in this area before. Are you going to have to make some shifts in your priorities to sustain this change? What are some of the sacrifices that you will have to make as a result? Will there be a new financial strain? This is the most important area to focus on because we often want to just focus on just the positives. Change is difficult and as humans, it is our natural instinct to go back to what we feel most comfortable with. The more that you think about what might be difficult, the better prepared you will be. It is inevitable, things are going to happen that may get you off pace and thinking about and planning for these will prepare you to respond in a way that will keep you on track.
What would your future look like?
Everyone wants to make a change because they believe that by making this change it will have a positive effect on their life, but what about the future? How will the affect your family? Is this change going to be sustained?
When I think about this area, I think about fad diets. Fad diets can often produce great results when they are used correctly, but may make you nutrient deficient and they are typically not sustainable over a lifetime. If your change may cause you harm, I would highly suggest re-thinking. Also, think about whether you can sustain this type of change over a long period of time. If you don’t think that is possible but you still would like to do it, put an end date on the original goal and begin thinking about what the next goal would be. Incorporating this change into your everyday life will help to create sustained change.
What if you decide that you don’t want to make this change?
Don’t stress about it, it’s OK! External motivation dies quickly and real change occurs when motivation comes from within. Take some more time to ‘Critically Think’ and plan. If you’re feeling up to it, try making small achievable goals that you feel comfortable with and create an end date. Achieve those small goals, assess how you did, and build from there. Success breeds more success, no one started off running marathons!
I am a firm believer that when preparation (constructive thought) meets a deadline (the beginning of a new year) – change can and will happen.
Nate Luongo, MSSW, LCSW-C, provides individual, couple, and family therapy in our downtown Bethesda office. Call 240-752-7650, ext. 7, or email [email protected] to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation with Nate!