How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
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New year, same old resolutions?
Welcome to 2007! Have you made your new year's resolutions yet? It's a great idea to use the transition to the new year as a trigger for personal renewal and determined effort to change. Yet the pattern for most of us is dismally weak: the initial enthusiasm fades with the old year and excuses quickly replace and real change. Year after year we decide to lose weight, stop smoking or whatever, and year after year we fail and give up, often in a matter of weeks or even days.
Yet it doesn't have to be that way. Here are seven powerful steps you can take to make the changes you want actually happen, and to keep the change:
1. Set real goals
Rather than decide just to 'lose weight', make it specific. Say what you are going to do (note: beware of saying 'try to'). Say 'I will lose four pounds per month for 12 month'. Note how monthly goals are more motivating than saying 'I will lose 24 pounds this year' as it forces you to get going straight away, and two pounds in a month doesn't seem too difficult. It is also better to have one goal that you will achieve than several that you miss.
I've used the very handy acronym 'SMART' here, and you can too: make your goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.
2. Write it down
Just thinking about your resolution is a start, but it makes it more powerful again if you write it down. Go on: put pen to paper. Sign it too, to show your commitment. This makes it like a legal document, a contract that you cannot break.
Put a copy somewhere that will help the action. If you are going to lose weight, then put a copy in the kitchen, on the food cupboard or fridge. Also carry a copy with you. Put it in your wallet or purse so the reminder is always close by.
3. Tell other people
When we make our intentions public, we make it much more difficult to break them. The thought of others' disgust and the anticipated shame is often enough to keep us going through the tough times.
So don't tell strangers or occasional acquaintances: tell those whose respect you value and who will remind you if you break your vows (especially if you ask them to now).
4. Take clear action
Planning is important but nothing will happen if you do not actually do something. Use your goals to make specific plans (writing these down, as above) and then act on them. If you are losing weight, for example, you may cut specific things out your diet.
Also know that achieving you goal is not a one-off action. You've got to keep on doing things. Do recognize that not doing something, such as not eating cheese, is a valid action.
5. Record what happens
Keep visible track of your progress. Use a log or graph to show what has happened. If you are slimming, for example, rigorously counting and writing down the calories consumed and keeping a chart on the wall of your actual weight.
This is where the truth comes out, so be honest! If you only lost one pound, do not waste time making excuses or feeling guilty: just speak and write down the facts.
Tell other people too. If you have met your monthly goal, then this will help you feel good. If you have missed it, this will motivate you to redouble your efforts.
6. Take corrective action
If you have not met your goal, do something about it. The big danger here is excuses that lead to quiet dropping of the goal. The first key action is to accept what has happened and double your determination to succeed.
Honestly and openly find out why the goal was missed. Keep asking 'why' until you find something you can act upon. Then make and commit to plans (including writing them down and telling others).
7. Celebrate success
If you meet you goals, then pat yourself on the back and give yourself a small and commensurate reward.
Be careful here, as there are a couple of traps. First, beware of back-sliding. If you have lost weight, do not celebrate by eating. Buy yourself that CD you've been fancying or something that has nothing to do with food. A neat trick would be to buy yourself some clothes that you will fit better next month, so giving yourself motivation to keep going.
The second trap is that the monthly celebration causes mental closure on the whole goal, that losing two pounds makes me feel like I've succeeded overall and hence give up the goal. This is something that happens with smokers and other addicts, by the way. They give up for a short period, think 'Hey, I can give up any time I want' -- and then have a cigarette to celebrate.
So. You've now got the toolkit. All you have to do is commit fully and follow the yellow brick road.