Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Making Change Stick – Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

Its that time of year when many of us develop New Year’s Resolutions, which, unfortunately, many of us will forget about within one month. However, many of these New Year’s Resolutions are important to our health and wellness (e.g. losing weight, exercising, reducing stress) and others are important to our happiness (e.g. getting finances under control, spending more time with loved ones), which means that these are important Resolutions we’re making.

At SCM we deal with organizational change frequently as we work with organizations to change their safety culture. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. And, in our experience, many of the same principles that apply to organizational change apply to personal change. So, to help make your 2014 a successful year, we present some tips to help in your New Year’s Resolution development process:

Know the “why” – One of the most important aspects of change, and the reason that people don’t follow Resolutions is that they don’t develop a clear understanding of why they want to change. Sure they have an understanding that they need to lose weight or get out of debt, but the urgency, the “so what” just isn’t there. You need to figure out why you want to change. We don’t get healthy just to get healthy. We do it so we can see our grandchildren grow up. We do it so we can go on that backpacking trip we always wanted to go on. Whatever your Resolution is and whatever your reason is, make it clear and make it personal. The more real and urgent you can make it the more likely you’ll be able to resist the temptations that surely await you two, six, and 12 months from now.

Get others involved – Humans are social. Trying to change in secret may work occasionally, but it fails more often than not. People are more likely to change when others around them are involved. Whether its simply by reminding you of your Resolution during those dark moments of temptation, or by giving you ideas on how to better implement the Resolution, people are vital to the process. You likely also underestimate the inspirational benefit to others when you show them you’re willing to change, and the effect on your relationship with them as you show a level of vulnerability. Find people around you who you can trust and talk to them about your Resolution and about how they can help.

Keep it simple – If you’re faced with two choices and one of them is easier than the other you’re almost always more likely to take the easier of the two choices. When you make a change, it is almost always easier to revert to old habits than it is to make new ones. For this reason, you have to make things as easy on yourself as possible. One SCM employee lost 70 pounds a few years ago and did it all by using an iPhone app to make it easy to track calories and set achievable goals for weight loss. Whatever your resolution, find ways to make it easy to do the right thing and harder to do the wrong thing.

Look for short-term wins – Typically Resolutions are big goals that cannot be achieved in a short period of time – lose 20 pounds, getting out of credit card debt, etc. When we first start on the path towards keeping our Resolution its easy because we have plenty of motivation and we underestimate how bleak things will look a month from now. If you’re losing 20 pounds make sure you will not lose it (in a healthy way) in a day, or even in a couple weeks. It takes time. To avoid getting discouraged, make sure you celebrate each time you overcome a major temptation and do the right thing. If you lose a pound or skip that extra serving of dinner when you want it so bad don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back, or better yet, tell the people around you how proud you are and let them share in your short-term win. These wins help to keep the momentum going.

Make it a habit – We’ve all seen people who implement a big change in their life only to revert back to normal within a few months or years. The reason is that as soon as the diet is over or as soon as the financial management plan is over they go back to their old habits. If you don’t make new habits then the old ones will take over again and we’ll be having the same conversation next year. If you really want to change then you need to develop new habits. How do you develop new habits? One step at a time. Every time you’re faced with a decision and you make the right choice you are one step closer to creating a habit. You have to remember that each time you are tempted to not follow your Resolution is an opportunity to break old habits and build new ones that will allow you to make real, lasting change in your life. Each decision is important and meaningful. Every time you give in and don’t follow your Resolution puts you farther away from your goal and every time you don’t give in puts gets you closer.

By the way, if you're looking to implement an organizational change next year, these concepts also can apply to organizational changes as well. 

We hope you all have a safe, health, and successful New Year in 2014!

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