Ahhh, January! The month of good intentions.
The month of diets begun and gym memberships opened, vices sworn off and new beginnings envisioned.
And now, one week in, it may well be the month of “I’ll start over next week.”
If you’re looking to make changes—and to actually succeed—I suggest you start small.
Most of us tend to think in all or nothing terms, losing sight of the many tiny changes that contribute to success and the many failures that go into finally getting some traction.
I think of change as, say, fifty percent failure, with the other fifty percent consisting of false starts and corrections and a handful of wins.
Change doesn’t happen in one swoop, no matter what the Just Do It campaign implies. An intention to be more patient with our children or kinder to our spouse is a mere starting point. In order to take it from the idea stage to the action stage, we have to break it down into small, well-thought-out, doable steps. Steps that we’re nearly guaranteed to pull off.
One New Year’s Eve, I heard a comedienne say, “I’m tired of making New Year’s resolutions that I cannot keep. This year I’ve got one that’s a sure-fire win. This year, I resolve not to stab anyone.”
Aiming just a bit higher than that, one might say, “this year I’m going to become more physically fit,” and start with standing when you talk on the phone instead of sitting with your feet up, parking three blocks away from the office or the train station, doing five sit-ups a day.
Remember, five sit-ups is five sit-ups more than having sat on your duff. No, that and an extra flight or two of stairs won’t get you on the cover of Flex magazine, but it is a small first step that you can build on if you choose.
It used to be that doing something one hundred percent was as good as it got. Apparently that’s now no longer enough. Every day I hear people say “we went for it a hundred-and-ten percent,” or “a thousand percent” leaving the hundred-percenters to look like mere slackers.
How about we give credit to every small move we make that brings us closer to our goal? If one out of four times you’re patient instead of brusque, if every day you do one kind thing for your spouse that you wouldn’t normally do, I say “thumbs up.” Maybe tomorrow you’ll do two kind things or four; maybe you’ll surprise yourself and do five. Maybe you’ll have a bad day and be as grouchy or stingy as ever.
But then again, maybe not.
Not hitting the mark? Okay, dust yourself off and go at it again. Humans are flawed creatures who do not change easily. Though many a New Year’s resolution has bitten the dust with the very first obstacle that it encountered, the truth is that one cookie or grumpy outburst does not a full-on failure make.
No matter how focused and determined we are, familiar patterns are difficult to break. Often, change occurs when we are about to behave in the habitual way and we stop ourselves in midstream. Much like the do-over concept I wrote about in a recent post, where couples give themselves a second chance after having behaved in a regrettable way.
Thinking big is the real enemy of change. Yes, people like to say “you can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps,” but the truth is that most of the changes that will make the biggest difference in our relationships require small, repeated shifts in behavior.
For example, a resolution to stop interrupting your partner when she’s talking is really a commitment to be aware of the impact of the offending behavior, to pause, to calm down, to be silent, to listen, to be mindful of a tendency to be competitive or dismissive, and to manage your impulse to correct “misinformation”.
When setting goals keep these principles in mind:
1. Start with a goal that is manageable and measurable.
2. Be clear about the new behavior you aspire to and know all the small pieces that comprise the whole.
3. Don’t underestimate how challenging it can be to adopt new behaviors.
4. Remember that mistakes are a helpful part of the learning process.
5. Accept imperfection as an inevitability.
6. Don’t get so focused on your failures that you give up.
7. Aim as high as possible, but not so high that you set yourself up to fail.
Now over to you: What’s helped you make positive changes in your life?
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