Happy New Year! Are you making New Year’s resolutions? Are you already blaming yourself for not being able to keep them? Wait, before you do that, let’s look at how hard it is to make changes. Emotionally sensitive people in particular seem to underestimate how difficult change is, believe accomplishing tasks is easy for others, and then feel badly about themselves when they don’t meet the goals they set for themselves.
Most of us underestimate how much effort change takes. For example, many of you have a certain way that you hang your toilet paper. Some people believe the right way is to hang it so the paper rolls under and others are adamant that the paper should roll under. If I asked you to change the way your toilet paper hangs, would you? Most people would not. Yet we wake up on January 1 with no preparation and resolve to change our eating habits. We are disappointed that by dinner we’ve eaten twice the calories we allowed ourselves. The real surprise is that we continue to underestimate how difficult change is.
Reasons Change is So Difficult
Change requires commitment. Sometimes we decide to make a change because we think we should or someone we love thinks we should or maybe just because we think it would be a good idea. To be successful with change, it’s helpful to make a full-out, no holds barred commitment.
Change requires energy and decision making. When we go about our routine, we are on automatic pilot. We don’t have to think about what to do. Much like driving home from work, the route is so familiar we may not even remember making the drive. Changing any part of our behavior requires being more aware. Being more aware requires extra energy and effort in addition to the energy and effort that is already required on a daily basis.
We have a limited amount of self control. Most of us act as if we have unlimited self control. We believe that we can decide we are going to do something and we’ll do it. Actually our self control is limited. Once we’ve used it up then we will go back to our old habits. Saying no to chocolate three times makes us more vulnerable to the next temptation.
We don’t budget our time. When we start out day, we spend our time as if it is unlimited. We don’t really pay attention to where our time goes, we just try to do whatever comes up that needs to be done, thinking we can do it all. Actually, our time is like a pizza. There are only so many slices of time that we have available, so we need to use those slices effectively to achieve the goals that are our highest priority for the day. If you are planning a change in your behavior, budget time for the change whether it’s time to cook and shop for different foods, time to exercise or time to recharge your self-control.
Steps for Success
If you want to make changes, and you’ve made a strong commitment, then consider these steps:
1. Set a realistic time frame with small, achievable mini-goals. Create a way to track your progress and celebrate your successes. Give yourself small mini-goals that lead to your larger goal and can be achieved in short time periods, perhaps a weekly or daily. The shorter time periods with celebrations of success help replenish your self-control.
2. Think about what is really required to be successful. For example if you want to get to work on time, analyze how you will be able to do this. Maybe you need to choose your outfit the night before and go to bed earlier. Maybe you need to drink less caffeine so you don’t wake up in the early morning hours only to be sound asleep when your alarm goes off. Maybe putting your alarm clock across the room so you can’t hit the snooze button is an important step.
3. Get rid of as much temptation to go back to old habits as possible. If your goal is to eat less sugar, then get rid of the sugary temptations that are in your house or office. If you have a favorite store for sweets, don’t drive by it.
3. Trouble shoot your plan. Once you’ve written out your plan for change, go back over it. Ask yourself what could go wrong. Then come up with ideas to solve the weaknesses in your plan.
4. Commit to regrouping when you don’t meet your mini-goals. Be kind to yourself and let go of perfectionism. When you don’t meet your mini-goal, figure out what happened, and get back on track.