Jan 1 2014, 5:46pm CST | by Forbes
Two out of three of us make New Year’s resolutions. Only 8% keep them. What’s the deal?
A colleague sent me an article today, from the Atlantic, about why we don’t keep our resolutions, and what to do about it. The main point of the article: most of what gets in our way is inside our heads. The author notes that changing our mindset, rather than changing our behavior, is key to change. For example, the top New Year’s resolution people make, year after year, is to lose weight. Most of us know exactly what we need to do differently to lose weight (move more, eat less, focus on making healthier choices); the behaviors aren’t complex or mysterious. What’s tough is to think differently.
Here’s an approach to doing just that. Instead of focusing your resolutions on stopping your bad habits (eating too much, smoking, not spending enough time with family), think of them as learning to do something new (eating healthier; finding new ways to calm and de-stress; discovering shared activities that appeal to you and your family.) Once you’ve reframed your resolution to focus on what you want to learn, apply these four key steps:
Make sure you really want to do it. If you’re attempting to make a change because you think you “should,” or because someone in your life has been pressuring you to do it, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll be successful. At the end of the day, we do the things we most want to do. Ask yourself: “If no one else cared whether I made this change, would I do it?” If the answer is no, then I suggest you either give up your resolution (sorry about that), or find another way to think about it that does resonate for you. For example, you may find you’re not actually interested in losing weight – but you really want to be strong and healthy. Focus on learning how to do that.
Be accurate about yourself. If you want to learn something new, you have to be honest with yourself about where you’re starting from. For example, if you’ve been smoking a pack a day for 20 years, and you tell yourself quitting is going to “be a breeze” – that’s not helpful. It will be more helpful to say to yourself something like, “I’ve been addicted to this stuff for a long time, and it’s going to take a real effort to find new ways to meet the needs that cigarettes fill for me.” It’s also important to be honest with yourself about things that might get in the way of your learning – things you may need to change. For example, maybe your resolution is to become more active. Upon reflection, you realize that you think of exercise as boring and difficult. Acknowledging this truth will help you see that, in order to be successful, you’ll have to either change your self-talk about exercise or find ways of being active that are fun for you – or both.
Get interested in what’s possible. Which brings us to the third key to learning. Once you’re sure this is a change you want to make, and you’ve been as honest as possible about where you’re starting from, get curious about how you could make the change. Curiosity is key to any kind of human growth — from toddlers acquiring speech, to scientists making world-altering discoveries. For instance, getting curious about how to overcome your negative beliefs about exercise might involve talking to someone who’s a late-onset exerciser, and finding out how he or she did it. You might look for articles about how to change your self-talk, or you might investigate types of activity that you’ve never done but think might be fun.
In addition, you can respond to your own negative predictions (“I’ll never be able to do this”) with curiosity; “Why do I think that?” “How can I change the way I’m thinking about this?” “What can I do to get a different result?” Genuine curiosity has the power to break through most of the limitations we place on ourselves.
Be willing to be not-perfect. I suspect that the vast majority of people who make New Year’s resolutions start out doing the new behaviors they’ve targeted: for a few weeks they eat healthier, or don’t smoke, or drink less. Then – inevitably – one day they hit a speed bump: they eat a big gooey dessert, or cadge a cigarette from a friend, or have a few too many beers. Most people at that point throw up their hands and say to themselves, ”I’m a failure. I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep this resolution. I might as well go back to my old, bad ways.” But there’s a powerful antidote to this – and it’s the final key to learning. Remember that, when we’re learning something new, we always make mistakes. There’s no such thing as being expert when you’re a novice. Think about when you were learning to drive, or ski, or cook: there were a lot of jerky stops/face plants/burned pans involved. If you think of your new habit as something you’re learning to do, something at which you’re a novice, you’re much more likely to accept the fact that there will be stumbles along the way. And then, instead of taking a mistake as an indication that you’re doomed to failure, you can get curious about why it happened, and what you’ll do differently the next time…and keep learning.
If you shift your resolution focus from Here are all the bad things I’m going to stop doing to Here are a few new things I intend to learn how to do... this time next year, it’s much more likely that your life will have more of what you want, and less of what you don’t want. So, here’s to your happy, healthy 2104, chock-full of discovery and growth….
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Source: Forbes Business
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