Monday, January 14, 2013

Change, Habits and Being Stuck

In December and January we see a lot of media attention on New Years resolutions. In December it is about making resolutions with a long list of tips to create meaningful resolutions and in January we see tips to make those resolutions a reality.  Sprinkled throughout this time period is acknowledgement that many people who make such resolutions lose motivation to see them through much beyond February.

One question that keeps me curious when all this talk of change, breaking or creating new habits and how to get unstuck is based on an observation that most of the advice seems to be rooted in making such changes to gain, avoid, or reverse something else; and that by doing so this will ‘fix’ a multitude of things we are not happy about in our life. Have you ever clicked on a link or picked up a book because a title spoke to that little voice inside your head that said, “maybe this will be the method that helps me make that change”?  Understandably we want the quickest and least disruptive method to success that we can have.

Do you subscribe to the theory that tackling one small change at a time is the best way to be successful at making change stick, or do you subscribe to the ‘all or nothing’ theory?

The push to change comes from various sources and it helps to understand what those sources are and how they may or may not resonate with us personally. When we find ourselves reacting to a change that is imposed on us from an external source, such as in the workplace, our community, families, and friends or from an internal source such as our desire for personal well being, understanding the role the external and internal pressures play is a good place to start. What changes are we making because of something that we want for ourselves and what changes are we considering because of organizational or societal pressures? Why do we make resolutions, the same ones, year after year without ever achieving the outcomes we expected?

For example, Jill and Chris both smoked for thirty years and had tried almost every quit smoking program available without success. Yet continued to make the same resolution every year, taking the same approach of trying the latest method to quit. Then one year Jill quit and has maintained that for ten years. Chris is still making the same resolution using the same method year after year, no one really expects Chris to quit anymore. The difference between the choice of wording Jill began using when she quit and the choice of wording that Chris uses is remarkably different. Jill started to talk about quitting for reasons that came from within; Chris continues to cite external reasons for quitting.

When you find yourself not meeting the desired outcomes for a change of a habit or feeling stuck try the exercise of writing why you want to make the change and evaluate which reasons come from within and which reasons come from external pressures. This simple exercise raises our awareness of why we do or do not move forward on change.

What clarity did you experience from that exercise? Did anything surprise you or did it confirm what you already knew but perhaps hadn’t thought about in the context of change?