Thursday, December 26, 2013

New Year’s resolutions: Turning wishful thinking into actual change

Photo by Moko 2014
“Sometimes we know the best thing to do, but fail to do it. New year's resolutions are often like that. We make resolutions because we know it would be better for us to lose weight, or get fit, or spend more time with our children. The problem is that a resolution is generally easier to break than it is to keep.” – Peter Singer
2014 is almost here! Many of us consider this time of transitioning to a new year a perfect time to make changes in our lives. A new year is a tabula rasa, a blank slate that we get to cover in any fashion we want. New hairstyle, new diet, new partner, new health habits, NEW ME, is the way many of us dream to start a new year. It is very easy to get lost in the jungle of unrealistic resolutions Bridget Jones’s style, which can lead to a significant level of disappointment in our capability to change. That in result means starting a new year, a new chapter of our life, as we like to think about it, with a higher level of guilt and most likely lower self esteem (“If I cannot keep my resolutions that means I’m a loser!”). Especially during this time it is important to keep in mind that change is a process that happens over time. If we think that drastically changing habits can happen overnight, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

6 Stages of Change 
In therapy I often talk to my clients about six stages of change introduced by Prochaska, Norcross and Diclemente: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and termination. In the first stage we are not even aware that we have a problem and we resist the change. In the contemplation stage we acknowledge that the problem exists and we begin to think about solving it (many of us are in this stage of change when thinking about New Year’s resolutions). As we move towards the preparation stage we shift to focusing on the solution rather than the problem, make a decision to change, and plan to take action soon. Finally, in the action stage we modify our behaviors, and if necessary, our surroundings. The maintenance stage is the commitment to change, and in some problems, one can eventually terminate the efforts to change because the change becomes final. The process of change is not linear, however, but rather cyclical. At any stage people may revert to an earlier stage, as they are not fully ready for the change.
Skipping to Action
What most of us do on New Years is to decide to jump straight to the action stage of change. In other words, we decide to quit deeply enrooted habits cold turkey after the special New Year’s Eve night. We do not prepare to change; we do not consider possible obstacles and strategies of preventing relapse. Oh no! That would take away from the magic of becoming a “new me” in the New Year. However, by skipping all the steps of change we set ourselves up for failure. If you’re serious about the changes you want to see in yourself, be it stopping overeating, quitting smoking, limiting drinking, exercising more, or ending an unhealthy relationship - acknowledge that in most cases it will be a laborious process. Of course, we all know examples of people who changed drastically in one day, but don’t let this fool you. In most cases if we work for years on developing a certain habit or pattern, why do we expect to be able to drop it and overcome it in one day?
Preparing to Change for Good
It sounds a little discouraging, doesn’t it? This post is not intended to discourage people from making New Year’s resolutions. My intention is rather to help people avoid the New Year’s disappointments. Positive change is part of growth and thriving - it increases one’s well-being and self-esteem. But, it is important to understand the process of change in order to avoid frustration and disappointment associated to failing at keeping the New Year’s resolutions (that in many cases are wishful thinking rather than a strong determination to change). In order to avoid disillusionment a few weeks, days, or even hours into the New Year, accept the nature of change as a process. Spend some time in the contemplation stage and think about all the pros and cons of changing. What is preventing you from changing? What would you have to do in order to make the change permanent? Who can help you change? Only after a thorough analysis of why the change is necessary will you be able to move forward. Don’t rush things just because New Year’s Eve is around the corner. Analyzing the reasons to change is a great start, and if you can initiate this process of thinking about it – you’re on the right track.

May this New Year 2014 bring positive changes to your lives, and may you have the patience and endurance to take on this endeavor!

1 comment:

  1. I definitely have fallen many times into the trap of thinking that I could change over a new year's night. I have been mostly disappointed with not being able to keep resolutions, but after reading your post I see there is hope. When I think back to the things I have successfully changed in my life, it is true that it was a process. Thanks for sharing this insight!