The Challenge of Change

Happy New Year!  If you are one of the roughly 41% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, I have some good news and some not so good news for you. 

Over 80% of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned within the first week. Even if we make it past week one, by the end of the year, only 8% of us actually achieve our resolutions. It is so frustrating when we know what we want to do, but we still cannot get ourselves to do it consistently. If the new behavior would be beneficial, then, why isn’t it easy for us to make the change?

Change is challenging for several reasons:

  1. Habits are strong and pervasive.  We are creatures of habit and have far more habits than we realize. Each day, we tend to follow a similar routine, from how we get ready in the morning to the route we take to work or school to when we go to bed at night.  Of the over 60,000 thoughts we have each day, over 90% are repetitive. Habits avoid thinking. They’re done automatically. Anything that minimizes thinking seems to be our brain’s preference. The fewer decisions, the better. To change, we must be certain that change is in our best interest. Otherwise, our habits will always win.
  2. Change is hard, because it’s uncomfortable.  We usually know what to do and how to do it, but the thought of taking the actions necessary to accomplish goals can create discomfort.  So, when something feels uncomfortable, we may revert to more comfortable habits, even bad ones. 
  3. What we’re doing is already working, sort of. Our brain is preoccupied with our survival. Our brains are programmed to resist change, because what we’re doing is keeping us alive.  So, our brain perceives any change as potentially deadly. We may be unhappy today, but we’re still alive!
  4. We’ve tried to change in the past and failed.  If we’ve tried to change several times and failed, part of us says, “Obviously, I can’t change. What’s the use in trying?”  We convince ourselves that our past predicts our present and future with 100% accuracy. 

Sounds bleak, right?  Now, time for some good news.  It isn’t easy to change, but change is possible!  The primary issue keeping us from following through with our plan to change is attempting to change too much, too soon. Smaller changes are easier to accomplish and to maintain.

Change is possible with an effective approach:

  1. Be prepared to change. Expect that change will be challenging. Our odds of success improve when we have a plan in place to guide us in implementing the change, especially when those plans include how to handle challenges.
  2. Start small. To minimize the discomfort that change creates, only change a little each week. For example, meditating for two minutes each day is easier than starting with 60 minutes. The key is to get in the habit of doing the new behavior each day and then gradually build on it.
  3. Have patience. It can take months to make a lasting change.  Studies show that it can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to change, depending on the habit and the person. So, hang in there, and give yourself time to make the change you desire.
  4. Be willing to change and face the consequences. Changing ourselves is scary, because we don’t know what the results will be. Accept that life will change in some way and that discomfort isn’t necessarily negative.
  5. Expect setbacks.  Change is about progress, not perfection.  Setbacks and challenges are normal parts of the change process and are to be expected.  Setbacks can set us up for success, if we view them as learning opportunities, not excuses to quit.

As we make resolutions and set goals for 2022, remember, change requires patience and persistence.  If we make incremental changes each week, imagine how much we could achieve by the end of the year and in the years to come. So, let’s get started today, and one day at a time, we will get there.

That’s another story . . .

Categories: That's Another Story

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