Want to make big changes this year? Start here
As we start the new year in another national lockdown you may be wondering how you are going to deliver on those life changes you had promised yourself. If you are managing to stick with dry January or “Veganuary” then well done with that. At least for temporary changes like that there is an end in sight so with a bit of willpower you’ll hopefully stay the course.
What about those life changes that you want to make permanent?
Many of us regularly come out of the Christmas period full of resolve to eat more healthily and exercise more and it starts well. During January, the gym carparks are often full (at least in normal years when we’re not in lockdown of course). You’ll have noticed that by the end of February things gradually return to normal. This year aside, I’m fairly sure that most gym owners can chart the declining attendance numbers with a high degree of accuracy.
So why is it that we struggle so much to turn our good intentions into sustained life changes? Why is it that we know what’s good for us but can’t seem to make our behaviours match our good intentions?
The short answer is that our basic psychology, our hard wiring, is working against us and hijacking our good intentions without us even being aware of it. The good news though is if we understand what’s happening we can hack it. We can become one of those annoying people who seem to effortlessly make positive changes stick. We can make those changes that matter to us without relying on extraordinary willpower that so often lets us down.
I’m not going to pretend it’s easy but what I can say (from our own experience with business clients and from the huge body of research into change) is that paying attention to these 5 themes will dramatically increase your chance of success and the change will take far less effort. So let’s take a look at the themes:
1. Energise – The desire and motivation for change
Staying as we are is normally the easiest option so our emotional drive to change must be strong enough to move us into action. It may be that our dis-satisfaction with the way things are has reached a critical point or that we’re reaching for something that really matters to us. It’s simply not enough to want it rationally though, we need to feel it emotionally. Be clear on why you are changing and ensure you are emotionally connected to it; try visualising what it will feel like once you have made the change. Whichever techniques you use, the hard truth is that If you’re not really feeling it then you’re unlikely to stay the course.
2. Enable – Addressing the reasons to resist, pause or become distracted
With all good intentions there are obstacles to navigate and if we don’t pay attention to them they will end up derailing us. They will consume our willpower and energy and we’ll eventually fall off the wagon…the only question is when. Consider what is likely to slow you down, distract you or derail you and build strategies to deal with them before they happen. Apparently a bacon sandwich has derailed many a veganism journey, especially after a few beers!
3. Execute – The tangible steps needed to make it real
Good intentions will come to nothing if we don’t know precisely what we need to do. There’s a popular saying that rings true here: “what gets scheduled gets done”; most of us lead busy lives with lots of things competing for our attention. Give yourself a chance and be clear from the start the steps you need to take and monitor your progress. Consider rewarding yourself when you achieve certain milestones to keep yourself motivated. You could even tell your friends your plan and get them to hold you to it!
4. Embed – Shaping the habits and behaviours needed to sustain the changes
Did you know that around 85% of what we do each day is habit based? Our brains use automatic patterns of thinking to drive most of our actions. Think about driving a car. Habits can either be good for us or bad for us and the key is to understand they exist and they take time to form. Research suggests that this can take anything from 30 days to 150 days depending on the nature of the habit we are forming or replacing. So be prepared to go for the long haul and focus on forming the habits you want.
5. Evaluate – Reflecting, understanding and adjusting the approach as needed and without bias
The world doesn’t stand still and our lives often take unexpected turns. These can, in turn, derail or even invalidate our initial good intentions. The changes we make take place within the broader context of our lives, our social groups and our priorities, all of which can change. Take the time to reflect regularly on how you’re doing and whether anything has changed either in your own feelings or in your broader lifestyle. The key is to be honest with yourself and not bury your head in the sand hoping it will all sort itself out. Better to deal with any challenges early and head on so they don’t become a bigger problem later.
I hope this helps a little and wishing you all the very best with your change this year. For a bit of fun, why not see how well you fare on the 5 themes using our personal change readiness assessment. It’ll only take a few minutes.
Or learn more about the 5 themes (our 5EModel) and how we help organisations to make changes to the way they work.
Mark has over 25 years’ experience of fast paced transformational change, often in highly complex and political situations. He co-founded Applied Change 10 years ago with a clear purpose to push the thinking on human behaviour and human centred change. Most recently he’s been working closely with University of the West of England (UWE) Psychological Sciences Research Group to develop simple, practical models and tools that re-orientate our approach to business change, starting from the human perspective.