3 Keys to Creating Any Kind of Change

August 13, 2013

We are just over half way through the year 2013.  How many of you made resolutions for this year and have kept them?  Studies show that of the 300,000 Americans who make New Year’s resolutions each year, 22% fail after one week, 40% after one month, 50% after three months, 60% after six months, and 81% after twenty-four months[1].   Why is it so difficult to make resolutions stick?  There are tons of theories on this subject, which I have taken the liberty to distill into what I see as three key categories:

1)      Reflection – We stop engaging in the kind of reflection that motivated us to make the resolutions in the first place.  At the beginning of the year, we reflect upon what we want, who we want to be, and what this looks like, yet often fail to continue this reflection as time goes on.  Ongoing reflection allows us to gauge commitment level, identify obstacles, or even to create more attainable resolutions that bring joy in the moment as opposed to relegating “happiness” to some distant point in the future through the attainment of extravagant goals.  Make appointments with yourself to reflect on your goals and where you are with them—and/or set up a recurring meeting with a friend or coach so that you have accountability.

2)      Action – Many of us don’t create concrete action plans.  Resolutions tend to be vague, nondescript, and often too large (such as, “get life in order”).  Studies show that less than 10% of us actually write out our resolutions[2].  If we took the time to make SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound), we would likely be better positioned to actually achieve them.  Once you get clear on your goals, set very clear action steps that follow the SMART model and check in with yourself (and/or your coach or accountability buddy).  Consider downloading one of the many productivity apps out there to help you stay on top of tasks and action steps.

3)      Practice – It is human to give up before our bodies have a chance to get used to the changes we want to implement.  A recent study found that when we want to develop a relatively simple habit like eating a piece of fruit each day or taking a 10-minute walk at lunchtime, it can take over two months of daily repetitions before the behavior becomes a habit[3].  To make any kind of change, we have to do the things we are trying to learn, whether it’s riding a bike or remembering to breathe deeply, which takes time and practice.  Give yourself enough time to practice the new habits you are trying to cement.

Don’t give up on your goals if you have faltered or even if you’ve fallen completely off the wagon.  Just hop back on that wagon and remember the three keys to keep on keepin’ on: reflection, action, and practice.

[1]  Sad, Gaad.  “Miscellaneous Facts About New Year’s Resolutions.” Psychology Today, December 31, 2009.  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/homo-consumericus/200912/miscellaneous-facts-about-new-year-s-resolutions

[2] Tanner, Maluchnik.  “Setting Effective New Year’s Resolution Goals in 2010,” LifeDestiny.net, http://lifedestiny.net/setting-goals-2010

[3] “How Long to Form a Habit?” Psyblog, http://www.spring.org.uk/2009/09/how-long-to-form-a-habit.php