This is the time of year we focus on our taxes, start making arrangements around summer plans, and try to remember when we're supposed to set our clocks forward, right? Sort of. Don't miss the fact that these are also welcome distractions from that thing we really don't want to think about, the elephant in the living room: our New Year's Resolutions! You know--those ones we made on January first and blew on the third and dropped altogether on the fifth?
Studies show that many people stumble early and that by this time in February, around 80 percent have given up their resolutions. Here's the thing about New Year's Resolutions: people plus change equals difficulty. As adults, we get in our habitual mode of operations, and change is hard. Add the fact that people typically make New Year's Resolutions around things they are fed up with and that have become emotionally charged ("Something's really wrong with me if I can't get it together and just lose five pounds / eat something green once in awhile / find two matching socks..."), and the problem becomes compounded. Because on January third, when we blow it ("See! I knew I couldn't do it! I blew off the gym once again!"), we go to the extreme and use it against ourselves: that one slip becomes proof that we are doomed to failure. And we give up. Oh, the drama.
Six steps to get back on track and stay there:
STEP ONE: ONLY CHANGE ONE THING--you're busy, and choosing to change several things may work fine today when you're motivated and thinking about it, but in three days when the dry cleaning needs to be picked up and the dog taken to the vet and your neighbor's car breaks down and he needs a ride, etc., who's going to have the time or focus to change things? So choose one thing, and choose well: choose something that's giving you a significant amount of pain. The greater the pain you're currently experiencing, the stronger leverage you have on yourself to actually change.
STEP TWO: FOCUS ON THE GOAL AND THE BENEFITS--Remember that there is a reason you want to change this habit! There is pain associated with the bad habit, and there are benefits awaiting you for changing it! Think about those benefits (i.e. every way that life will be different with the new habit), visualize it, and consider how great it will feel. Give yourself reminders of this desired end state--e.g. a picture, an inspiring quote, a list of benefits etc., tacked up on the wall.
STEP THREE: ONE AREA plus ONE ACTION plus SCHEDULE THE ACTION equals SUCCESS--say you've chosen one area (e.g. organization), and ONE small and specific action (go through mail once only), now schedule it (every day when I pick up the mail I will go through it while sitting next to my files, shredder and waste-basket).
STEP FOUR: PLAN A REWARD--once you've planned your action (e.g. going through mail once only and on a regular basis), plan a reward! For every day and then every week of success, give yourself a reward (e.g. a favorite meal, a movie, an extra 30 minutes to read a book you're engrossed in...).
STEP FIVE: WHEN YOU STUMBLE, LET IT GO--the fact is, it's very possible that you'll have a little stumble or two. So decide now that if/when that happens, you'll take a deep breath, forgive yourself, and take a lesson from Scarlett O'Hara and say to yourself, "Tomorrow is another day." And then tomorrow have another go at it. This is not an excuse to succumb. This is the answer to the paralysis of all-or-nothing perfectionism. Get over it and get on with it.
STEP SIX: CREATE ACCOUNTABILITY--knowing you have to "report in" will help you follow through on days you're really dragging your feet. Ask a trusted friend to be your confidante and confessor. Also, plan to write down your progress at the end of every day on your calendar or in a notebook.
Even if you stumble, that doesn't mean you have to fall. When it comes to compromised New Year's Resolutions, forgive yourself, re-calibrate, and use this six-step plan to support your success. The point isn't wholesale change, the point is A change! For adults, one tiny shift in habits is a big deal and equals success.
Finally, it so happens that on the Chinese calendar, February 14th is New Year's Day this year. So according to the Chinese, if you struggled with your resolutions in the last six weeks, you're off the hook and good to go to start the New Year off right--NOW!
In this case, I say go with the Chinese.
And go get 'em.
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