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The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

Six Reasons Why it's Difficult to Stick to Your New Year's Resolutions

  1. You aren’t as committed to change as you thought.
  2. The change you’re trying to make is too radical.
  3. You are trying to change more than one thing at a time.
  4. You let a “lapse” turn into a “relapse.”
  5. Your plan is missing something.
  6. You’ve lost your focus.

Okay, so what you can do about it?

First ask yourself a question: Are you really ready to make this change now? Don’t be afraid to admit it if you aren’t. There is no reason to think you have to work on something now just because you’ve flipped the calendar over to a new year.

On the other hand, if you’re serious about making a change, you’ll have make a deep and abiding commitment to it. One way to do this is to make a list of payoffs that the change would provide. The longer your list, the more likely you are to stay motivated. A benefits list also provides something you can refer back to on tough days.

Negotiate with Resistance. Your mind and body will resist change because of built-in homeostatic mechanisms. As you step into the zone of discomfort, your psyche may very well send you the signal that it much prefers the status quo, thank you very much. This can be true even when the status quo is hurting you. (Example: social anxiety holds people back and it costs them. Moving towards more social behavior will increases anxiety, at least for a while, but this doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do.)

You probably won’t make resistance go away entirely. Change, at least the kinds that matter most, are rarely comfortable. But you can negotiate with it by changing just one thing at a time, or by making the change small. Either one of these strategies is more likely to lead to success.

Don’t let a lapse become a relapse. Reverting back to old behavior (falling off the wagon) is to be expected. This because change is rarely linear. Usually it’s more like two or three steps forward and one step back. What matters is the overall trend. When a lapse turns into a relapse, it usually means we’ve fallen into the trap of all-or-nothing thinking –- we’ve let ourselves believe one mistake (or one bad day) spoils the whole program. When that happens, it’s a short step to chucking the entire change business. Be mindful of the tricks cognitive errors can play on your progress: keep lapses in perspective.

Re-examine your plan. For example, if you’re decreasing old behavior, are you replacing it with something else? When discomfort, tension, fatigue, or anxiety sets in, how will you cope? Who will support your efforts? (Never underestimate the value of having emotional support.)

Track your change. If you don’t track your change somehow, it’s easy to lost sight of it and get distracted by other things. Tracking change helps you keep your goals and progress at the forefront of your mind. This is important because your attention is a limited resource. These days, there are countless ways to track change. You can find tools on the web, or simply create your own (e.g., spreadsheet, journal).

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