The start of a new year is a traditional time for many people to make resolutions about change in their lives. It’s a time when the gyms fill up with new members…for about a month. Most of us smile when we hear the phrase “New Year’s resolution” because we all get the joke that resolutions never last.
Making significant changes in our lives is tough. Human beings don’t generally like change. Most of us would have remained in the womb if we had been presented with birth as an option.
It’s not that we lack hope. One of the most popular classes offered by a local self-improvement program is titled, “A Year from Today I Will be Married.” We’re full of hope! We just aren’t sure how to move from hope to reality. And the accumulation of years of unrealized hopes makes us doubtful about the possibility of change happening at all.
Most of us make changes most easily when the consequences of not changing bother us more than the hassle of trying to do things differently. If you’re not there yet, that’s up to you. Accept your decision to live with the status quo and stop nagging yourself. You can revisit your decision later when you’re ready. It’s much healthier to acknowledge to yourself that you’re not interested in making that change right now than to pretend you are to quiet the critics.
Want to make changes that stick? Here are some suggestions:
- Be realistic about your commitment. Why do you want to change? Doing something because someone else (your doctor, your mother, your partner, your boss) tells you that you “should” makes it doubtful that you are committed to doing something differently. In fact…
- Beware of the words should, ought to, need to. These words often indicate that your motivation is less about living your life more successfully than it is about getting the critical parent who lives inside your head to get off of your back. “I ought to get a better job” isn’t the same assertion as “I want a better job.” Ought is about nagging; want is about your desire to have things be different. Desires are powerful in making change happen. Nagging just gets you into an argument in your head.
- Strategize. How will you get from where you are to where you want to be? Think of the change in positive terms – what affirmative change you hope to see, rather than what you want to stop. Think about what you need to do, including the smaller changes that will support your bigger goal. Taking small steps is usually a great idea. Making the steps too big just sets you up for failure.
- If you slip-up, don’t give up. Remember, change is difficult. Monitor your progress and cut yourself some slack and get back to working toward your goal. Accept responsibility for your choices without getting self-critical. And celebrate successes when you make progress towards the change you’re seeking.
- Get support. Friends can help. Know when to get professional help, especially if you’re having trouble making change happen on your own.
- Know what success looks like. Don’t assume that this is obvious. How many people who want to stop smoking really mean “stop buying cigarettes,” while still bumming smokes from friends?
Change is perhaps the only constant in life. What better time than now to take responsibility for creating the life you want?
John Ballew is a licensed professional counselor and has been in private practice in Midtown for 25 years. For more, see his website at www.bodymindsoul.org.