New Year’s is the time of year when everyone is writing about predictions and resolutions. I count myself in good company with Laurie Ruettimann at TheCynicalGirl.com: “I think resolutions are for wimps, suckers, and Valerie Bertinelli.” Well, that might be a bit extreme (especially the Valerie Bertinelli part), but the fact remains, I don’t do New Year’s resolutions.
I haven’t made one in years. Instead, I try to live my life in a way that encourages me to change and grow whenever I face new challenges and have new experiences. I don’t limit those opportunities for growth to one time each year. Because real behavioral change is hard. Really hard.
Let’s face it. New Year’s resolutions are about making a change in our behavior: making our lives better by quitting smoking, losing weight, going back to school to get a degree, repairing a relationship, and more. And since changing behavior is really hard, just deciding to “change” on one night of the year doesn’t work.
When I think of the times I really focused on changing something about my behavior, I needed more than just deciding to change. I needed to accept that change was required so that I could achieve my desired outcome. In other words, it takes more than desire to change – especially if you’re evaluating the current behavior as less than positive.
That’s where the Kubler-Ross grief model becomes relevant in understanding how to make change happen. I think of it more as a model to create personal change. You know that the five stages are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.
Most New Year’s resolutions get quickly off track at the Anger stage. And for many, it only takes a few days. But to really change behavior, you must have a plan that helps you move through all the stages to positive action…and sustained change.
For example, when I finally realize that in order to lose weight I must start to live a more balanced lifestyle including healthy eating and regular exercise I go into denial: “I can lose weight and not change what I eat.” That doesn’t last long because I slip right into Anger. “Dammit! I like eating chocolate and French fries and I’m not giving them up!” That stays for a while and then, weasel-like, I begin to bargain with myself: “Well, if I just exercise more I can still have ice cream every day.” Then the cold hard realization sets in that I can’t be the healthy me without really changing my behavior as it relates to what I eat. And that’s where most New Year’s resolutions stop. Depression or avoidance set in and we’re done. Finished. No change. Just the same old same old.
But Acceptance is where the rubber meets the road. It’s the place where resolutions become action and change starts to happen. And it’s accepting that change must happen in order to achieve a better outcome. Like losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle.
Personally, I think that having a plan gets us through Denial, Anger, Bargaining and Depression and into Acceptance more quickly. Maybe not, but that’s how it works for me. Because a plan keeps me focused on the future and what I want to achieve.
So that’s how I think about making change happen in my personal life. Works for my professional life as well. And that’s why I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. My new year starts whenever I tackle something that needs to change for the better in my life.
So, really, every day has the opportunity to be New Year’s Day. And I like that.