Committing to Change

Some version of the following statistic has shown up in so many posts and articles over the past couple of weeks it has almost become a meme: of the 45% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, only 8% actually see them through to the end of the year.  The most recent attribution I found for this statistic is a University of Scranton study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.  If that sounds discouraging, take heart by noting that these researchers also found that those who bothered to make a resolution still fared twice as well as those who did not.

We’ve all seen the standard advice for sticking to your resolves – taking small steps, rewarding yourself, building your plan into your schedule, etc.  All those are good. But if you are still having trouble, a recent article in Yoga Journal titled Make This Your Year by Elizabeth Marglin suggests a novel approach. Instead of thinking of your resolutions as something specifically for yourself, try thinking of them as “bigger-than-self” goals.  Think of your goals as compassionate.  For example, if your intention is to physically move more think about how this will benefit the other important players in your life.  This will require you to be clear about your motivation. Why is this intention important to you?  The article poses a series of questions to help you clarify your intentions including “What do I want to experience more of in my life and what can I do to create that?”.

Once you’ve figured out what you want to do and why you want to do it, the next step is to commit. Create a new habit.  You’ve got plenty of experience creating habits, some good – some that make you unhappy. Take that experience and use it to your benefit. It may take a few weeks but the more you persevere, the more your brain will adapt. Research shows that we are capable of creating new neural pathways in our brains throughout our lives.  Build your intention into your life. When you struggle with following your plan, just let the habit take over and keep you on course. Remember that your plan is not just for your own benefit but has a larger purpose. Then don’t think “should I or shouldn’t I?”. Just do it. You will never regret following through even if it turns out in the end that the path you chose needs to be adjusted. No matter what happens you will learn alot.  Be open to that and enjoy the learning process.

The final step suggested in the article is to “Envision Success”.  What does that look like? If more movement is your intention maybe success means being able to hike with your grandchildren.  Or ride your horse comfortably and with confidence. Maybe there is a particular bicycle ride you’ve always wanted to try. Or a walk-a-thon that benefits a cause you support.  Perhaps you want to volunteer for an organization that means something to you. Keep that vision right up front. But be kind to yourself.  A compassionate intention requires self-compassion. Don’t let a day off derail your plans. Just take a breath and let it go. Don’t beat yourself up. Just put your schedule back together at the next opportunity.

Eliminating Obstacles

We’re 3 days into the new year so perhaps you’ve already begun to implement your new year’s resolutions.  Of course, the odds are against you, but I’m sure you know that.  No need to be negative, though.  Most of us have been here before so we know that setting the intention helps, but all those good intentions tend to get derailed as soon as some inevitable obstacle gets in the way.  Goal-setting can be good, but it might be a better idea to take a look at some of those obstacles and see if there is a way to circumvent them.  Example:  don’t like getting up early for an 8:00 AM class?  Try reminding yourself that you don’t have to do it every day.  Start with one day a week.  When you struggle to get out of bed that day, remember that you don’t have to do it again for another week.  Tell yourself that you will only go for a little while.  Set a time limit:  “I’ll try it for 15 minutes and if I don’t feel better I’ll stop.” Or tell yourself you’ll take a nap as soon as you get home.  As I’ve often said, getting out of bed is half the battle. Perhaps even more than half.  Once you’re up, you’re already there.  

Years ago I taught a 6:00 AM aerobics class.  Everyone who came was very dedicated, but also half asleep when they showed up.  No one talked at the beginning of class.  Also no one paid attention to what anyone else was doing because it was all they could do to get themselves moving.  So no one cared what anyone else was wearing.  Or whether or not they were keeping the beat or making the same move as everyone else.  But move they did in whatever way worked for each person.  By the end of the class everyone was relaxed, smiling and ready to meet the day.  Sound good?  You, too, can feel that way.  

How about trying a short-term resolution?  Commit to one day a week for 6 weeks. When you complete that, you can make that same resolution all over again.  Or perhaps expand it to a couple of days a week or a longer time frame.  And if your resolve falls apart, make a new beginning.  Here’s a quote from Carl Bard that I’ve always liked:

“Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”

Bite off small chunks and set yourself up for success instead of failure.  Then you can pat yourself on the back and even reward yourself when you achieve that success.  If timing is not your obstacle, take a look at what makes you stumble.  Explore alternatives.  Enlist the help of a friend.  Take it slow.  Let go of expectations and outcomes. The process is what counts.  What you actually accomplish is likely to be totally different from what you expected.  Make your health and well-being a priority.  You won’t be sorry.