It’s a New Year. Did you make a New Year’s resolution? Some of the more popular ones include losing weight, exercising more, quitting smoking, stop drinking, or get out of debt. But, as we quickly realize, changing ourselves is hard to do. Why is that?
Most people attribute change or a lack of change to will power. But this is actually only a small part of the picture. What we don’t realize is that there are many influences that support our bad habits. If there are five people holding a door closed, it is highly unlikely that you are going to be able to open it. The same is true of habits. There are many factors that reinforce a bad habit.
Change is possible, but you have to come at it with more than willpower, you need skill power. You have to first identify your own particular challenges. Challenges are those conditions that create the greatest temptation for you. It may be certain times, certain people, certain places, for certain emotional states. You will need to identify them for yourself. Become a scientist of yourself. The old adage to, “know thyself,” is still true. Learn to study yourself.
Once you identify your own unique challenges, then you can create and develop your own personal action plan. An action plan is a set of specific rules you will follow when you are tempted. Challenges tell you when you are at risk of giving into temptation. The action plan tells you what to do.
In developing an action plan, you need to consider and marshal all your allies. The first is your willpower. Make sure you motivate yourself by identifying an incentive. This is the why of behavior change. If it’s weight loss, visualize what you will look like when you’ve lost the weight. Names all the health benefits that you will gain.
Next, develop the skills to succeed. Weight loss is not just about motivation, it’s about how-how. You need to learn why you overeat. This brings us back to the “know thyself” advise. Do you find that stress makes you overeat? Develop skills to deal with the stress differently. Maybe it’s certain times of the day. Then develop skills to distract yourself during these times. It could also be that you eat in front of the television. In this case, it is easy to mindlessly eat. Learn to eat mindfully. There are books on mindful eating that will help you.
Next, recruit people in your life to encourage you in your behavioral change. This may involve sitting down and having an open and honest conversation. It may mean making new friends and distancing yourself from others.
And finally, engineer the environment to help, rather than hinder your goal. This may include positive posters and other visual reminders to keep you focused. It may include eliminating temptations, making them hard to get, or replacing them with positive things. Sometimes it’s easier to replace a bad habit with a good one.
So now you have selected a bad habit you want to overcome. You have identified your own unique challenges. And you have developed you own action plan to overcome your challenges. Now it is time to implement your action plan. It is time to see if your action plan will work.
Are you ready to learn a secret? I can almost guarantee that your action plan will fail. Do you know why? Because you do not know yourself that well. If you did, you would know what to do and do it. But it is what you don’t see that controls you. That is why you have to look at your action plan as an experiment. It is a way of getting to know yourself better.
It is important that you look at the failure of your action plan, not really as a failure, but as increased information about yourself. The action plan must fail in order for you to learn more about yourself. As the book, Change Any-Thing, puts it, “Once we understand the forces that are acting on us, we no longer have to fall victim to them.” That means that “When it comes to creating lasting change, failure is the rule, not the exception.”
It is a New Year. It is the first day of the rest of your life. A New Year can mean a new you, but you must approach it with wisdom. Pick one habit that you want to change. Study that habit. Pay attention, with full awareness, and identify the challenges you face in overcoming that habit. Notice motivational challenges, skill deficiencies, social influences, and environmental and structural challenges. Then devise an action plan to counter all those negative challenges.
It is important to hit the habit with a combined force of personal, social, and environmental countermeasures. Habits are very hard to break because there are many strings that keep us bound to it. You must cut most of these in order to give your willpower a fighting chance. You must even the odds of success by enlisting as many aids and helps as you can muster. And you must design them for you and your unique set of challenges. Know yourself by studying yourself.
Note: I originally wrote this for the Spiritual Naturalist Society and it was published October 1, 2015. Reprinted with permission. http://spiritualnaturalistsociety.org/new-year-new-you/