Entering a new year is always a time to think about resolving to make change in one’s life. However, most New Year’s Resolutions don’t last very long! Recent surveys say that 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February. Why is that? Are we such creatures of habit that we can’t actually change anything? This is partially true. If there isn’t a big enough payoff to do something differently, we will rarely put the effort into change. Another hinderance can be the change process/transition. Some people don’t do change well and find it quite unsettling to go through transition. This doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to stay the same it simply means you need to validate the feelings that come during times of transition.
So how does a person make meaningful change — the kind that literally makes a difference. Here are a few ways to make change that matters:
Determination. Change begins with a determination that something needs to be different. This includes a process of contemplation wherein a person weighs the pros and cons of things staying the same vs. the pros and cons of changing it up. If a person determines that the change is a worthwhile investment, they can start the process of defining what exactly needs to change and how. A change has to be something that a person actually needs or badly wants, otherwise the requirement of time, energy and good old hard work will feign. Setting your mind on an end goal and determining that it is worth doing is a helpful part of the change process. Determine when you will start the different behaviour/process.
Definition. This is the step where a person actually nails down the parameters of what they want to change. Definition involves terms like: what do I want to see different? What kind of a time line am I looking at? Is this a realistic and attainable goal? How will I be able to measure it — to know whether I’m on track and when it is complete or successful. Ensuring that your change process is realistic and do-able actually increases motivation and helps reduce procrastination. If the end goal is too lofty or unattainable, you will actually put it off and get discouraged.For example, if you never do any physical activity or purposeful movement, don’t set a goal for change that involves doing you hate doing (e.g. ‘going to the gym five days a week because anything less doesn’t matter or is pointless.’) If you want to get more physically active this year find things to do that involve movement and physical activity. Pick something that sounds good or at least neutral and start with a realistic step. If you presently do nothing outside the house, do 1-2x/week. If you end up wanting to do an additional day a week as time goes, add it in but make it a matter of choice. Make it about overall health goals like maintaining mobility, having some strength and stamina.
Dedication. Change takes work. If you want something to be different it takes time, commitment and dedication to continue with implementing the change even when you don’t feel like it. There is a DBT skill called “Opposite to Emotion Action.” This skill involves validating the feelings in a situation and then choosing an action step that you know will end up helping you. For example, if your goal is to grow socially/build new friendships and breakthrough your social anxiety, you may determine that you are going to go to a social outing/class/small group once a week. There will be times when you don’t feel like going out. Opposite to Emotion Action validates how you are feeling — you don’t feel like going out, perhaps you’re tired or overwhelmed by the prospect of being in a social setting. However, the skill doesn’t let the feelings drive — it is the choice to go ahead and do the action step even though one doesn’t feel like doing it. This dedication enables change to develop and bring a different outcome. After using Opposite to Emotion Action and pushing through to do these different behaviours/steps, a person literally finds things changing. Validate the feelings and then do what you know will be helpful later. “I know I will feel better if I keep doing this…”
Dream. Think about what could be different. You may not even realize that you’ve stopped dreaming. Perhaps your previous dreams fell apart or got destroyed by the hand of someone else. Don’t let that stop you from dreaming again! An ancient proverb reads, “without a vision, the people perish.” Dreaming helps us to find meaning and purpose. It gives us reasons to live and goals to work towards. Losing a dream doesn’t mean we shouldn’t dream again. A dream can be a great source of satisfaction and fuel for making change and putting in hard work.
Determine. Define. Dedication. Dream. Repeat.
Determine. Define. Dedication. Dream. Repeat.
Change in a way that matters. Become the best self you can be. Be gracious towards yourself and give yourself permission to mess up. When you do (cause you will as a member of the human race), get up and learn from it. Then keep on going. Learning from your mistakes is one of the most mature and helpful parts of becoming the person you are meant to be.