Depending on the source you read, it’s reckoned that only about 10% of people will manage to keep their New Year’s Resolutions. But we would all admit that there is something about the ‘in with the new’, fresh start feeling that comes with the beginning of a new calendar that makes us want to try.
So how come that feeling rarely lasts longer than the Christmas leftovers and we’ve all written ourselves off as failures by about 15th January? We think New Year’s Resolvers just need to understand some simple psychology in order to achieve success.
The science-bit: the motivational cycle of change
Back in the 1970s, two smart psychologists (James Prochaska and Carlo DiClimente) started investigating how humans can choose to change. They came up with the motivational cycle of change theory, which has five steps (or six, if you choose to include ‘termination’ – we’re not as we’re not admitting defeat!). So, what are the five steps and how do they relate to New Year’s Resolutions?
Steps 1 and 2 – pre-contemplation and contemplation
These early stages are about our levels of awareness of the need to change. They could be summed up by the journey from “Why should I bother giving up smoking?” (for example) to “I really should think about giving up smoking.” It’s probably in step 2 that we’re actually making our Resolutions. It really helps to focus not just on what we want to change but why we want to change; make a list of all the benefits that will come from the change and keep it handy.
Step 3 – preparation
Having made our Resolution, this step is about being prepared. If we follow our quitting smoking example, it might mean research about what help is available or the difference between nicotine sprays and gum. For most New Year’s Resolvers, we don’t spend enough time at the preparation stage. Resolutions can be a bit spontaneous, meaning we haven’t given ourselves enough ‘mental time’ to grapple with the challenge ahead. Perhaps giving yourself January to prepare and actually starting your Resolution on 1st February might help.
Step 4 – action
To start with, the action is often the easy bit, while we’re all fired up and enthusiastic! It could help to keep an ‘action diary’ so you can record each step you’ve taken towards changing your behaviour each day (however small it might seem at the time). Notes like “Jim offered me a cigarette over coffee but I said no”; in behaviour terms, it might seem small but this is something to be proud of.
Step 5 – maintenance
Let’s be honest, we all know that this is where most of us will fall down; we’ll cave in, have that cigarette then write ourselves off as a lost cause. Not so fast! You are only human – forgive yourself, enjoy the cigarette and tell yourself that you will do better tomorrow. It takes time to change a habit so you can’t expect overnight success. Meanwhile, reflect on your ‘action diary’ of everything you have already achieved, avoid those ‘trigger situations’ (like not going for coffee with Jim!) and look back at the list of benefits you made; they will all help motivate you to keep your Resolution.