For many of us the New Year brings with it possibilities of what can be different, better than last year. Many have grown up with New Year’s resolutions, eating better, spending more time with family, curbing unwanted or unhealthy habits, or in general just trying to improve the quality of our lives. If you’ve looked into trends about resolutions, the findings aren’t encouraging. Many keep up their new workout routine up for a few weeks, but Strava (an online exercise tracking app) noticed a major drop off in usage by Jan 19th. So that has led some to just quit before you actually get going. What’s the point in starting a good habit if I’ll give it up after a month?
Failure is feedback. This is one of the most powerful and important ideas you can carry with you as you strive to grow, to be challenged, to change. Trying a New Year’s resolution gives us helpful feedback that can be honed, improved upon and tried again in the future. The first piece of feedback that trying to create a new habit tells you is that you are at least out of the “pre-contemplative stage” of change. A psychological model for change breaks down a person’s changing habits into 6 stages, the first of which is the pre-contemplative stage. This is where someone has no intention of changing a habit for at least the next 6 months. In general, a person in this stage does not see their current habits or lack thereof as a problem needing to be addressed anytime soon.
The next stage is the contemplative stage. In this phase, the person has intentions for change in at least the next 6 months. Despite the person’s intentions though, many of us can stay here for around 2 years. Think about that change you’ve been wanting to make: start exercising, going to see a therapist, taking up that new hobby…The reality is we can spend a great deal of time in this stage until something happens the shifts us into the Preparation Stage. This is the stage where you begin the activity/habit but on an infrequent basis. Maybe it is eating a few more vegetables a couple times a week, or going to exercise 1-2’s per week. The point is you’re starting to do it, but not fully developed into a habit and hasn’t become part of who you are.
From there you move into the Action Stage where you are actively involved in the change behavior on a consistent basis. But for those of you who are considering New Year’s resolutions, the good news is, you are at least in Stage 2, you recognize that you want to make a change and considering what that would look like. That commitment to change is the first step in the change process. Moving from stage 1 to stage 2 is no small feat. While intentions alone aren’t enough to get you to where you want to be in life, you can’t get there without them.
Now remember, I said failure is feedback, so for those of you trying to add/subtract habits in the New Year, when you fail, rather than give up and go back to stage 1, take a step back and assess, “Why is this behavior important to me?” “Why do I think this change is necessary?” and “What are the potential barriers to me being consistent in doing it?” Is it lack of time, knowledge, resources/money, support? Look at failing to maintain your new habit as feedback for additional planning needed. It’s not that you can’t do it, it is that you need to approach the new habit in a different way than before. Once you identify the barriers to success, the next step is to come up with creative solutions. If you are limited on time, then lower the bar of time needed. You may want to go to the gym for an hour 4-5 times a week, but given your current schedule that seems impossible. What does seem possible? Make what success qualifies as, easier. Changing habits will require sacrifice often of other things, but as you think through why this behavior is important to you, you can adjust your hierarchy of values and the things that are important in your life to fit this new habit into it.
To close here are 4 quick rules for making changes last from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. Make the new habit:
Remember, if nothing changes, nothing changes.