Setting a date to start a new behaviour is not an unusual way of thinking. But does it really have to be on the 1st of January? The trick to making a change is understanding the change cycle and where we stand in it. Prior to picking a day to start a new behavior, it is important to do the mental preparation necessary to be psyched up to implement the change.
Most of us have something we would like to change about ourselves and sit contemplating the need to make a change for a while before taking action. The change cycle is similar for most of us. Initially we believe nothing is wrong or we minimize the impact of an unproductive behavior such as procrastinating, spending or drinking too much. Then comes a time when we recognize a particular behavior needs to be altered. Note that I said “altered” and not “stopped”. Even when we see the negative impact of a behavior, the idea of totally giving it up often brings a certain level of resistance. The bargaining phase of “I don’t want to give it up totally, what if I just did it once and a while? ” is a common occurrence.
During the bargaining phase, people may try to reduce the frequency of the undesirable behavior to later realize that the “on again and off again” is more difficult than expected. They realize they are on more often than they are off.
None of us like to think that a behavior or an action has physically or psychologically taken control of us. However, once we bravely face reality, a shift occurs in us. That is the beginning of the action phase. Being able to say, there is something that is no longer acceptable in my life and I am the only one who can change it is a big step toward change.
Once a person has decided they need to make a change, there is still the psychological obstacle of fully engaging and committing to new behaviors. This phase of “I know I will need to do it” can last a while. The pivotal point that leads someone to action is likely different for all of us. For some it is a personal health or relational crisis while for others it is connecting with their inner motivation and courage. First and foremost, the change has to be meaningful to the person who will engage in the new behavior.
For a behavioural change to last, it is crucial that the individual remain connected to their internal motivating drive; the reason why they are making this change. It is helpful to keep in mind the desired outcome and a positive vision of self in the future, once the new behavior has been established. A strong support network is also very important. Look for support groups or individuals who have also overcome some similar challenges. Engaging in new activities will also help you stay the course. Giving value to a new behavior will help you keep your focus.
Another phase to the change cycle is “Relapse”. It will be important to have a plan if relapse occurs. If you expect relapse and prepare for it, it does not need to take on catastrophic proportions and send you down the shame and self-loathing spiral. It happens and course correct back on the path to change.
Change is a process with ups and downs. Identify the behaviour to change. Be clear on why the change needs to occur. Set your start date. Manage the challenges of staying the course one day at a time, Create some healthy habits and distractions. Encourage yourself and celebrate each small victory. If you fall, see it as part of the course. Just get going again. Failure is not the end of the road, it is just an uncomfortable “pothole”.