A previous post highlighted the stages of change:
1. Precontemplation: no intent to change
2. Contemplation: think about and intend to change
3. Preparation: develop a plan for change
4. Action: enact the plan
5. Maintenance: continue moving in proposed direction
The lack of consideration for these stages can often account for many failed resolutions. Often times, people spend little time contemplating the decision to change and completely skip the preparation stage. With New Year’s resolutions, the problem seems even more evident.
B: That’s great! Do you have a plan?
A: Yeah! I’m going to join a gym. I know once I do that I’ll be more motivated to go.
B: Awesome, anything else?
A: Nah! New Year, new attitude! It’ll be great!
Of course, the possibility exists that the resolution-maker’s “new attitude” will fulfill the somewhat vague goal of “more” gym attendance. Unfortunately, a positive attitude and new gym membership will likely not result in a long-lasting change in the absence of significant contemplation and solid preparation. For instance, in the above example, the contemplation stage would likely include recognizing obstacles to exercise (i.e., workload, tiredness, soreness, etc.) and preparation would involve ways to overcome such hindrances. In all likelihood, the above resolution-maker did not consider such barriers to change nor did he/she plan methods to get to the gym in the presence of such obstacles. Consequently, “gym attendance” will likely join all other unmet goals on the island of abandoned resolutions.
People often overlook ways of “overcoming obstacles” for various reasons. First, when energized by the decision to change, individuals often underestimate the power obstacles can have over their behaviors. Comments like “as long as I maintain a positive attitude, I’ll be okay” can lead people down disappointing paths in the absence of the realistic acknowledgment that continuous, consistent positivity is nearly impossible to maintain.
“Consistency is not really a human trait.”
(Harold and Maude, 1971)
Secondly, when the conversation gives rise to a discussion of obstacles, another issue arises: the misunderstanding that by talking about potential problems one is suddenly taking on a negative attitude. Contemplating possible issues that may impede change does not represent negativity. Instead, it suggests a realistic preparation for dilemmas that may interfere with movement toward a goal. Obstacles can be internal (i.e., thoughts, emotions, etc.) or external. Consideration of all elements that hinder or contribute to the achievement of a goal is essential and will most likely result in a positive change.
Detailed answers to the following questions can inform a well-planned resolution and increase the likelihood of positive change:
- What is your goal for 2011?
- What specific things will you do to meet that goal (tip: be as detailed as possible)?
- What are potential obstacles to meeting that goal (tip: consider external and internal obstacles)?
- How will you overcome those obstacles (tip: consider external and internal solutions)?
- What will you do when you get off track (tip: take it easy on yourself if and when you do get off track; remember, “consistency is not really a human trait)?