hope you had a great start to 2010 and are ready to
make it even better than the last year.
Here's something that is going to help you turn your
New Year's Resolutions into reality -
"From Resolution To Conclusion!"
I've been coaching since 1997 and the one thing I find
over and over again is most people make one fundamental
mistake when setting goals/New Year's resolutions:
they start (usually right about this time of year) with:
"well, last year was s**t, but this time it's going to be
(incidentally, there are many amongst us who make
"New Days Resolutions" every day: start the day
with great intentions, get sidetracked all day, finish
the day on a low, only to tell themselves: "tomorrow
is going to be different")
And next morning, they jump in, full of enthusiasm, ready to
pursue their dream once more. And we all know what
So, here's why this doesn't work: fundamentally, you're
trying to change a habit - right now you may be
procrastinating on doing something, you maybe
overeating when stressed or tired, whatever it is,
it's usually a "bad" habit you'd like to change into
a "good" habit.
now, just to save you potentially having to read
this entire post just to find out it is not for you
THE #1 underlying assumption for all of this
To really, truly change something in a big way
in your life, YOU have to change. Yes, creating
a new environment, enlisting the support of others,
or a following a new plan can all support you.
But ultimately it is you, it is you're thinking,
it is your habits, the way you do things on a regular
basis that have to change.
so, the question is: is the process I am outlining
below go to work for you?
And the answer is: I do not know. I don't
know you and I don't know if you've got what it
takes or how willing you are to pay attention
and put the simple ideas I'm about to share with
you into action. That's all up to you.
What I can tell you with absolute certainty is
that the people who make the most progress,
and I mean huge breakthroughs are those that
are passionately committed to making changes
in their life.
As long as you bring a passionate commitment
to the challenge, I am confident the process
I'm outlining below will help you.
Listen, we are all creatures of habit and unless
you implement a better system and a new set
of habits AND most importantly stick to them,
it's a virtual guarantee that you will go back to
doing the same things you've always done in the past.
so, if you truly think it's not your fault, it's the
economy that's to blame, or a full moon, or
anything else, then please stop reading now.
back to changing a habit: here is the one big
mistake I observe over and over again
changing a habit is a PROCESS, not an EVENT.
(yikes, I know, process sounds like work, don't
worry, yes it is a little bit more work than
shooting of a magic bullet, however it's not that bad!)
Yet most people treat it like an event: "right, I'm setting
my new goals now, I'll take massive action, and then
everything will fall into place"
Here's why this doesn't work:
it has been shown over and over again in clinical
studies with tens of thousands of participants,
that in order to change a habit for good,
you have to go through a distinct *sequence* of stages.
And the "right, I've had enough, I'm taking massive
action NOW" stage unfortunately
is near the END of that sequence.
By leaving out the stages that lead up to the
"massive action" stage, your chances of success
are next to nothing.
Once you go through the sequence in the proper
order, your chances of success simply skyrocket.
And the best thing is: in practice, it's actually
pretty simple and easy to implement.
So, here are the stages:
To illustrate how this works, I'll use the general
New Year's resolution "reduce stress" --
firstly, because it's one of the top 10 every year
(and moving up in the ranks rapidly),
secondly, because it encompasses or is the cause of
many related conditions so many of us experience
consciously or unconsciously, ...
... such as anxiety, restlessness, distress,
lowered self-esteem, procrastination ....
... and thirdly, because one of the major components
of psychological stress is unstructured time.
Empty hours, goalless days, and weeks or months
without any major progress can elevate anxiety
and compound depression.
(and this whole New Year's resolution thing
is about setting and achieving goals, isn't it?)
BUT: you can apply this is to almost any "bad" habit
you may be struggling with.
Right then, the 5 phases you need to go through
for maximum success:
The first phase is called 'PRE-CONTEMPLATION'.
This is the phase where you are not really aware of
the fact that you are affected by the "condition"
(I.e. that you have a bad habit). There are many
people who have been chronically distressed
for years, and don't realise that there even is an
alternative to their current state of being.
Just to illustrate, until I was 18 years old, I really
thought that flowers were just colourful blobs
out there in the fields.
It is only when I had to get glasses in order to
get my driver's license, that my entire world had
changed, but flowers suddenly had individual petals,
(a few other things changed as well, I know could
sit with the cool kids in the back of class because
I no longer had to sit in the first row and squint
in order to see what's written on the board!;-)
just like with the glasses, the point of this phase
is to give you a new perspective, a new set of glasses
to see your situation through.
Here for example stress may go unnoticed because
it is masked by other behavioural problems such
as loneliness, physical aggression,
over-eating, or even other avoidance behaviours
that distract from the underlying issue, such
as spending almost every night at gigs and
concerts, doing sports excessively or
The key issue in this phase is that the desire to change
is typically low. A consequence of this is that although
we may get subtle or not so subtle hints from others
that we "should" change our behaviour, we don't
see it as a problem and hence do not take action.
This is a good time to seek information and ask
some important questions such as "what risks
am I running by going along just as I have been?"
You can now start to see why jumping into
a New Year's resolution program based on
someone else's wishes, or our "should's"
without really considering it is a problem
is doomed to fail.
Right then, with the new glasses on, you now
recognise that there is an alternative, now
is the time to figure out what exactly needs to change.
The next stage is "CONTEMPLATION"
This is the phase where you identify the self-defeating
and self-perpetuating behaviours and their
consequences. This is all about awareness building!
If you suffer from distress, chances are that at least one
of these statements is only too familiar:
"It's all my fault"
"I'll never get better!"
"I am rubbish"
"I can't do it"
"it's too hard"
"I won't do it"
a crucial step at this stage is to develop an awareness
of the implicit, dysfunctional thoughts that reinforce
your "bad" habits.
See, a critical barrier to changing many problem
behaviour is these that serious consequences
seem too distant or long-term to matter.
The objective of this phase is hence to really
contemplate the consequences of the problem
One tool that is useful for this is a daily log
of these behaviours and thoughts:
The whole point of this is to collect all the
information, not distorted recollections,
which will then provide you with the reasons
you need for changing (or not changing!)
also, you will start to see the patterns underlying
your thought processes and the habits that
go along with them.
This part deals with the internal consequences,
I.e. what thoughts lead to what behaviour is.
The next thing you need to do in this phase
it is to figure out what of the external consequences
are of your behaviour, or bad habit:
there is tons of information on stress and distress
and its consequences of there, so do some
reading about your type of distress. Ask your
loved ones how they experience your distress.
( yes I know, this is a tough one! As it is them
who are ready giving us enough "grief" or
aren't taking us seriously any more when we say
"at this time it's going to be different")
Does your stress influence your behaviour
towards them and/or your children, your
colleagues, your neighbours, your friends ...?
The answers is likely to make you uncomfortable, but
this newfound self-awareness is essential for
long-term successful habit changing.
like I said in the beginning, the key is that you,
and your thinking changes. This phase provides
you with all the information and all the motivation
to change it without thinking.
So once again you can see that if you were to jump
into a "massive action New Year's resolution frenzy"
without having this information and motivation,
your chances of success would be very slim.
so now that you have identified your "WHY?",
the next step is to prepare for "the big day".
Of course it's not a big day at the process of
launching yourself into actually making change in your life.
the next phase is the PREPARATION phase.
in this phase you begin to make small changes,
he start "trying out" your new desired behaviours,
you start redirecting energy and - very important --
you start preparing your environment.
This is probably one of the KEY factors that
determines whether you are going to be successful or not.
The environment includes obviously all
the things around you that distract you,
that discourage you, that drain your energy.
a messy workplace for example causes a lot of
mental confusion, distraction and in some
cases anxiety that's drawing energy away from
the one thing you should be focusing on.
Friends and relatives -- even if they want to be
supportive -- may not know how to best support
you and hence do more damage than good (despite
their good intentions)
another part of this phase is to put into place
environmental checks, I.e. mechanisms that enforce
and/or reward good behaviour and punish "bad"
behaviour appropriately. (Bashing yourself over
the head or scolding yourself is NOT the way forward!)
Once again you see if this vital component is not in place
your chances of changing your behaviour in the long-term
are next to nothing.
it's a bit like going camping for the weekend:
you wouldn't just walk out of your house, into the forest,
and set up the tent without doing any preparation
for the camping trip. In practice you would check
the weather forecast, you would buy some supplies,
you would probably check that the tent is complete
and you would tell people where you're going.
Get in practice, when setting goals or new years
resolutions, that's exactly what people do.
No preparation, just plain walking out the door,
and hoping for the best.
So, with all this in place it is now time for the
This is the stage people typically plunge straight into
when setting a goal or a New Year's resolution.
Yes, this is where you take action, where you enlist
all the help and support you can from others and
by creating a sense of accountability to others and to yourself.
This is where you take your well crafted plan and
put it into action.
And: follow-through until completion.
And if you do this until the new behaviour becomes a habit.
because you have to focus time and resources on the
"core activities" necessary for the achievement of
your resolution and because they're always more things
to do than there are time and resources available to do
them, you must hold yourself accountable to deadlines and
adjust your tasks accordingly.
And you know from practice that this is easier said than done.
And that's precisely why most people fail with their goals.
but, if you took those previous step seriously and actually
figured out the big "WHY", identified self sabotaging
thoughts and resulting behaviours and implemented
a supportive environment, then your chances of success
at this action stage are vastly improved.
going back to the stress example, stress or distress to be operates in a vicious cycle. Stress gives rise to effect that can in turn calls for the stress. But now you understand the cycle due to the prep work you have done on it and hence interrupted that cycle at the correct points and hence stop it.
A key is that you are assertive and active in this phase and treat your behaviour like a problem that needs to be removed from your life for good.
Clinical research shows that if you are passive
or dependent then you will find it very difficult
to correct your thoughts, alter relationships and
feel more capable and vital.
so, let's assume you've now developed a new behaviour
but the supporting you in every way.
The problem is, quite often, whilst enthusiasm is high,
we keep doing this new behaviour, but after a while
life gets in the way and we drop it.
In other words the new behaviour has become a habit.
And this is where the final stage comes in: the
Like I said, the objective is not to pull out of
individual episodes of stress, but rather maintain
a stress free life.
Here it is important to recognise that stressful
situations can always arise, there will always be
temptations, distractions and setbacks.
The key of this phase is hence to acknowledge
these facts and develop mechanisms for dealing with them.
A major point is that it is a lot easier to maintain
your resolution or goal or how it then it is to
But, if the WHY you have developed in the
contemplation phase is big enough it will be
much easier to stay on course and if you hadn't.
So once again you see why it is so vital to go
through this process in a particular sequence,
rather than jump straight into the action phase,
which is what most people do when they set a
goal or a New Year's resolution.
there is a great thing, there's a really simple test
for figuring out in which phrase you are:
using the examples of stress or distress, use
whatever resonates most with you, think of an
example and answer the following three questions:
- Are you seriously considering overcoming your distress within the next six months?
- Are you planning to overcome distress in the next 30 days (and perhaps taking small steps to do so)?
- I you know actively overcoming your distress?
Now look at the combination of answers
you give to each question:
If the answer is no to all questions then you are in the precontemplation phase.
If he only answer yes to question one then you are in the contemplation phase.
If the only 'no' is to question three, then you are in the preparation phase.
And if you answered yes to all three questions, then you are in the action phase.
Now if you are in the action phase, go through
the other phases mentally and see if you have
done the necessary groundwork to make sure
that you can succeed in the action phase.
if you are in any of the other phases, and you now have
a guide to help you ask the right questions,
the powerful questions that help you build a great
foundation on which you can successfully
reach your goals in 2010.
Spend some time on this, it will definitely
be worth your while.
Please share any insights you're having
and I wish you all the very best of 2010
PS: Further reading: a great book that gives you a wonderful
overview over this whole process is "Changing
For Good" by Prochaska et al.