If you’re like most people, this year’s resolutions are going to look a lot like last year’s resolutions (and those from the year before). The problem with making New Year’s resolutions is that changing your behavior is hard. Over the years, you have developed lots of habits for the way you eat, the time you spend at work, the days you do (or don’t) exercise and the interactions you have with family and friends. Your motivational system is exquisitely set up to help you keep performing those habitual behaviors over and over.
Changing your actions is not as easy as resolving to do things differently in the year to come. A simple statement that next year is going to be different from this year is not enough.
Unfortunately, changing your behavior requires work.
That hard work has to happen in several facets of your life. If you prepare properly, you can be ready to do new things in the new year. Here are a few recommendations.
Set positive goals. The way you set your goals determines how easily those goals can be turned into habits. If you set a negative goal, like eating less, then you are forcing yourself to focus primarily on not performing an action. You cannot create habits for avoiding actions; you only create habits for performing actions. So, refocus your goals positively on actions you can take. Think about the kinds of foods you want to eat in the new year and how you can add them into your diet.
Restructure your world. Generally speaking, people prefer things that are easy to things that are hard. Chances are, you underestimate the influence of the environment on your actions. So, restructure your world to make the desirable behaviors easy and the undesirable ones hard. You don’t need studies by psychologists to tell you that it is harder to eat ice cream if you don’t keep it at home than if you always have a freezer full of it.
Disrupt your habits. So much of your life is done on autopilot, and that is generally a good thing. You succeed at many tasks in life because you have developed good habits to promote desirable actions. When you need to change your behavior though, you need to switch around aspects of your environment that support your behaviors. If you find that you eat mindlessly at home, for example, then move around your dishes and silverware. Now, every time you go into your kitchen, you have to think about your actions. And that gives you an opportunity to initiate new behaviors.
Engage people. When you find your motivation to change starting to flag, find a partner in change to help you out. Enlist a friend, neighbor, family member or colleague. Get them on board with helping you make changes. Give them permission to nag. Call them when you are about to give into temptation. We humans are social creatures. Use that social force to your advantage.
Start a journal. Before you can make lasting change, you need to get to know yourself better. It is helpful to put together a journal to help you plan your path to a new set of behaviors. To help you on your way, I have created a Smart Change Journal, which you can download for free here. Although the journal was created as a companion to my new book “Smart Change,” you can get started filling out this journal even without the book.
By spending a few more weeks getting ready to achieve your resolutions, you will stand a much better chance at success than you have in the past. And just think: Next year you can try out a completely different resolution rather than revisiting the ones that have failed in the past.