It’s a new year and, like it or not, that means change either by the turn of the calendar or your own personal goals. But rather than telling yourself all of the things you would like to do differently this year, we want to explore the one real topic that will determine your success or your failure: How to make lasting change in your life.
As part of our year-long “Be Your Best 365” series we assembled a panel of experts including clinical psychologists, fitness trainers, CEO’s, and life/success coaches to understand how to make real and lasting change in your life. Although we cover New Year’s resolutions, this is really a blueprint for what you need to know and do in order to make personal change.
Change Doesn’t Just Happen
To diagnose how to make personal change we first need to understand why it is so difficult to achieve this change. Clinical Psychologist Steve Levinson, Ph.D., author of the behavioral change book “Following Through: A Revolutionary New Model For Finishing Whatever You Start“, and an inventor has studied this issue for a large part of his career and provided us this context. He comments, “I’ve spent the last quarter of a century trying to make sense of why even smart, motivated people often fail to follow through on their own good intentions. I’m convinced that the major culprit is a perfectly logical but nevertheless faulty assumption that people commonly make about how their good intentions will work. They assume that if they have a good enough reason to adopt a given an intention, that reason will provide them with all the motivation they need to actually follow through.”
“A New Year’s resolution is the special holiday edition of something we produce – and often neglect – all of the time: Good Intentions.” - Clinical Psychologist Steve Levinson, Ph.D.
Dr. Levinson goes on to state “What it takes to actually keep a New Year’s resolution or follow through on any good intention is a frank acknowledgement that keeping a promise requires something very different from making one. To actually follow through, you have to deliberately create conditions that will make you truly feel like you must do the thing you’ve decided you should do whenever you should do it.”
Actionable Intent – The 30 Day Challenge
My own journey in understanding change has come from years of teaching traditional Japanese Karate to hundreds of students. Deep personal change doesn’t usually occur quickly, and often we have to look back after months or years to see how that change has manifested itself. However, resolutions don’t necessarily require such a long term focus. This video from Matt Cutts, Google’s principal search engineer, is a terrific example of what I call “actionable intent” for shorter term actionable goals. In my case, I was able to eliminate all sugar from diet in a a 30 day period following the generic framework he outlines here (Click the arrow to play the video: 3m 27s).
Actionable intent aside, you still need to create the right conditions, whether the be mental, physical or situational to make change like this work. Dr. Levinson goes on to add that “Making a New Year’s resolution (change) or adopting a good intention without also making a point of creating such conditions is like deciding that you should wake up at 4 AM tomorrow and then going to bed without setting an alarm clock. Lots of luck.” His MotivAider for Mobile application provides support for exactly that type actionable habit change (see below in technology).
Know Why You Want to Make a Change
In order to change anything (and New Year’s resolutions are really about self change), it’s important to understand up front what it is that we no longer need in our life, and/or what no longer serves us. Lesley Rodgers, a Life-Skills Coach and Empowerment Instructor points out that “Identifying the root problem (and being totally honest with ourselves)…” is the critical first step to making lasting change. She outlines three key steps you have to make before you take on the thought of making a change or signing yourself up for a resolution.
1. Identify What Needs To Go And Why
Recognize the reasons why making a particular change is necessary to you is a critical part of the process. If you can’t identify it, you can’t change it.
2. Check Your Levels of Desire
In order to change you have to want to do something different to achieve a specific outcome. In Tim Ferris’ book “The Four Hour Body” he speaks of the “Harajuku Moment” which involves the realization that you have to internalize the need to make a change.
Once that is realized, Lesley indicates that changing habits and facing new challenges in our daily routine to break the patterns of the past is then achievable. She also notes that any sign of hesitation will show itself as resistance to this change. It’s a red flag. And if that crops up, you need to return to the identification phase to re-evaluate what you want to change.
3. Intend Your Outcome
The final component in the self check-in process is understanding your core intention. This should align with your own personal determination and discipline to achieve your desired change. It also helps to visualize the outcome you want so that you are able to actually ‘see’ your future success.
Personal Change is Really About Self Leadership
The concept of self leadership is commonly applied to business settings. However, the goal-driven nature of work can crossover directly to your personal life. John Brubaker, a performance consultant, speaker & co-author of the forthcoming book “Leadership: Helping Others To Succeed”, advocates an effective process in the form of a very effective change framework.
Marry Self Leadership to Personal Change
John says it is important to quantify what you want to change. An example might be working towards weight loss or body fat reduction goals. He underscores the importance of seeing an end date for your target goal and emphasizes the use of a technique which he calls the SMART goal:
“If It Can Be Measured, It Can Be Improved”
The idea is to set a baseline then measure and chart your progress on a daily basis. And after all of that, don’t forget to…celebrate your success!!! (see #2).
“That Which Gets Rewarded Gets Repeated”
The idea here is to set short term and intermediate goals, and then celebrate the success of these as you reach each milestone. John’s takeaway point is that “You have to celebrate that which you wish to see more of.”
“A Little A Lot Is Better Than A Lot A Little”
A common mistake in making change, especially resolutions, is that we tend “dream big”. Unfortunately big goals can simply be overwhelming. A good example is how you exercise, especially if you are just getting yourself back into shape. John suggests doing a little of the activity each day and in 21 days you develop a new habit. He adds that doing a “little a lot” builds daily positive momentum which can grow exponentially over time.
Plan Long Term And Embrace Change As A Habit
Now that you understand the basic principles for making change you need to plan for success. Fitness & Lifestyle Expert Luke Sniewski, who is also CEO for LEAF Lifestyle, a personal and corporate health and wellness organization, recommends the following:
Create An Outline And Plan
“Creating a written plan allows for effective strategy implementation”, Luke says. By creating the gameplan of what to do, when to do it, where to do it you are creating a script to follow that is much easier to achieve than trying if you were to aimlessly “figure it out” on the fly.
“If your resolution is to lose weight, then think about and plan all the necessary steps to do it. Call your local gyms to get membership rate and personal training details, and begin to budget for the necessary costs associated with your decision.” Think of all the things you need to do and then write out all the issues and variables involved. This makes it easier to track and check things off your list. Plus, you keep yourself accountable–a key element in personal leadership. (See the example graphic below of a SMART plan)…
Make Change A Habit In Your Life
Getting in the habit of making change occurs more easily if you get into the process of setting goals regularly. In doing this you are recognizing the necessary steps and time involved in those decisions. This kind of “practice makes perfect”, Luke says. By setting daily, monthly, and yearly goals, you provide yourself a system of positive reinforcement throughout the year.
Look Back Over Time To See That Change Has Occurred
When talking specifically about personal change, the process can be a little more complicated. The tendency to dream big is common when you are deciding to make change, but the reality of achieving real personal change can actually take place over a long period of time. I have experienced this both in my own personal development in practicing martial arts, as well as teaching others. As Steve Jobs said so pointedly in his landmark 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford he titled “How To Live Before You Die” you need to look back to “connect the dots” (watch the first 5m 35s although the entire speech is quite inspiring).
Humor Is A Powerful Technique For Change
All this talk of making personal change and taking on New Year’s resolutions can get a little heavy. After all, it’s your life and some of the changes you plan on making are serious. Leigh Anne Jasheway, M.P.H. (which stands for master of public health/mistress of public humor) is a Humor and Stress Management Expert. Her advice on making change? Lighten up and laugh a little. She expands upon this lighthearted suggestion in her recent book “How’d All These Ping Pong Balls Get in My Bag!? The Stressed-Out Woman’s Guide to Letting Go with Laughter.”
Leigh Anne suggests that for any change you undertake (resolutions or not) that you try and make them fun. She adds that, “We already have so many to-do’s in our lives that we consider chores, it’s no wonder that adding a few more to that list just exhausts us and makes us want to rebel.”
She cites an example of applying this to weight loss: “Instead of vowing to run more often, resolve to invite your funniest friend to go to a Zumba class together (dance classes are usually more fun than hitting the pavement).
We tend to laugh more and be more playful when we’re around others, so any exercise you can do with friends will bring more joy into your life.”
Make Progress by Leveraging Technology
One of the key elements of making any change is staying organized. You certainly need to write down what you plan to achieve. But, as our expert panel has shared, you also need to be reminded of the individual tasks you need to undertake to meet your change goals. You also need to keep tabs on what’s been accomplished and what you is still left to achieve. The internet abounds with free productivity tools, and several of the better ones are meant specifically for mobile devices in our increasingly “unconnected” world.
One of the more clever organizational apps we have see is Astrid. This free mobile app and Web tool helps you keep your tasks organized, assigned and completed. (Click the arrow to play the video: 1m 57s).
It’s an outstanding tool to keep you on track and on schedule to meet your change goals and resolutions. The makers of Astrid designed the technology specifically to help people get things done. Astrid is available on the web accessible to desktop and laptops computers or as a mobile app for both Android and iPhone users. Astrid has been downloaded over 2.5 million times, so the market has clearly voted that this useful tool delivers.
Keep Good Intentions At the Forefront of Your Mind…with a Mobile App
Dr. Levinson, has evolved his behavioral change research into a clever and fascinating mobile application that bridges the interest in making change, and necessary steps of writing and recording your goals down to reach them, with physical cues delivered from your mobile phone. His “Motivader for Mobile” application acts as personal digital change assistant. You go through a simple process to identify the changes you want to make and create a personal message that reminds you of the change you are attempting to make. The app then applies a vibration or sound to that message, and alerts you periodically, similar to how you receive a call or text message, providing the right type of re-enforcement when you need it. The application has been used to help other make change in over 40 countries.
In Pursuing Change, Never Forget These Three Key Principles
As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider and principles to pursue when undertaking personal change. Lynn Kindler, who is also known as the “Cut To The Chase Coach” reminds us that it’s critical to:
Keep Your Eye On The Ball
In the crazy world we all live in with responsibilities and deadlines, this simple precept can make all the difference between success and failure when undergoing change. Simply remind yourself what the goal is that you are trying to achieve. Doing things like tracking your progress, writing goals down, or the actions you need to follow in your calendar, and keeping those front and center, can have a positive impact on whether or not you can maintain the momentum needed to make personal change.
Maintain Flexibility When Making Change
At first glance, this doesn’t seem to line up with making change. After all, if you are looking to achieve a specific change telling yourself to take a different action may not seem to make sense. Linda argues that you need to re-align your plans when necessary, including allowing your strategy to bend or give a little. When you think about this, it makes sense. If something isn’t working for you, no matter how motivated you are to make change, you probably need to re-think what you are trying to accomplish and the methods you are using.
Be Hard On Yourself – “The Zen of Motivation”
This last principle comes from my own observations on making change, again referencing my years of traditional Japanese karate training. As I have written about extensively on my self development blog “Black Belt Guide“, ultimately you are responsible for driving the change you want in your life. There is no motivation pill you can swallow for change, and one of the real keys to making personal change is simply accepting that you have to get past those good intentions for wanting to make change and do the work to get there.
And If You Must Make Resolutions…
So you may break down, look at the artificial premise of making change in your life because a new year is upon us, and tell yourself “I resolve to (lose weight/workout/make more money/insert resolution here)”. Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. and Author of “How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age: 6 Unique Change Program for 6 Personality Styles”, suggests keeping three key elements in mind if you decide to make a New Year’s resolution:
Don’t Be Overly Ambitious
This goes against the grain of what we are conditioned to hear and that’s why it works. Sure, you want to bring about dramatic change. But, unfortunately, change doesn’t always work that way. Linda says that instead of resolving to lose 30 pounds, aim to lose 5 pounds in January. Then, you need to celebrate this accomplishment. As you do this, it will help to motivate you to continue the plan you have outlined for yourself to lose the weight. Why?
“Nothing motivates us more than seeing and experiencing success.” - Linda Sapadin, Ph.D.
Consistent Hard Work Kills Motivation To Change
This last statement is shocking to hear, but true. If the change you are going to make requires consistent hard work, you generally won’t make it unless the change is truly important to you or the reward of achieving it is something you simply cannot live without. That’s not to say you shouldn’t apply yourself. And anything worth having usually requires work. But on a personal level, most people will give up easily if the work is too hard.
Linda cites this all-too-familiar example related to undertaking exercise: “You want to get in shape but hate going to the gym. You pay for a gym membership and promise yourself you’ll go. Yeah, right. Gyms get rich on people like you. If you hate the gym, don’t go. Instead of demanding that you do what you dislike, find a physical activity that you enjoy. Maybe it’s a sport. Or a martial arts program. Or yoga. Or Pilates. Or dancing. Or cycling. Squash the “Yes, But” excuses. Just begin. And notice how much better you feel when you move your body.”
Resolutions Or Personal Change That Aren’t “Action-Specific” Done Get Done
“I want to get more organized,” is a good concept. “We generally all want that in our lives. Yet, instead of focusing on the actual concept, it’s much more effective to focus on the specific actions you need to take that will result in your becoming more organized” says Linda. AboutOne provides online organization solutions that support this type of concept.
To help understand “action specific” efforts we should undertake, Linda provides three examples related to being more organized to enable you to reach this type of goal:
- “I’ll spend 15 minutes every day organizing papers on my desk.”
- “I’ll discard at least 10 items of clothing that I no longer wear every change of season.”
- “I’ll visit an office supply store to purchase organizing aids for my junk drawers.”
As you can see, the goal is clear in terms of what needs to be done whether it be time bound, quantitative or specific in what you need to do to reach the goal.
Oh, and That Fitness Thing
We felt it would be remiss of us if we didn’t include at least one fitness specific expert who can speak to what it takes to make personal change and get in shape. As you probably guessed, getting in shape and “losing weight” are two of the more popular “resolutions” made every year.
Najla Kayyem, owner/coach at CrossFit Scottsdale and CEO of national fitness news site SICFIT.com provides these four thoughts on what it takes to achieve long-term fitness goals. (Note that these really can apply to any type of change or resolution).
Create A Team
Najla shares that every class done at Crossfit Scottsdale is filled with a diverse group of athletes (in terms of participant age, gender, and ability). “They become a team and cheer each other on.” By creating a support group, either online or in-person, you have accountability as well as the ability to celebrate accomplishments or commiserate over the challenges you face.
Accountability Is Key
Establishing a support group helps individuals maintain accountability. For example, the coaches from Crossfit Scottsdale call, text or email students when they miss a workout session. They also track progress regularly, on a weekly basis. However if you don’t work out through a personal trainer or organization that provides this type of accountability you can still create your own system of accountability for this through workout partner, friends or family. Or at least set up a methodology to remind yourself to do what needs to be done. That can be a simple reminder in your electronic calendar, or using something like the Astrid solution or MotivAider for Mobile application mentioned above.
SICFIT also supports this by providing a website where participants can submit videos, photos and blog entries about what they are accomplishing in their cross fit training routines:
Having some form of public accountability, whether that’s posting to a blog or website like SICFIT, telling friends what you are doing or simply tweeting about it can be a powerful way to keep you from procrastinating in working towards achieving your goals.
Scale Your Efforts
Our necessity to try the latest workout doesn’t always “work out”. One reason why the CrossFit method is successful is that trained coaches can adapt the exact same workout for different ages and abilities. Even when an athlete becomes pregnant for example, she can continue her same workouts, just at a different intensity. Adaptability and scalability are important to maintain momentum of your fitness goal. I can personally attest to this given years of training and injury in a martial arts dojo. A minor injury can get in the way of keeping on top of your goals, but don’t let that or illness or even a poor night’s sleep stop you. Find ways to keep moving towards your goal, even if you need to scale back simply to “not lose momentum”.
Keep It Fresh and Mix Things Up
The CrossFit method mixes up exercise routines so you never know what to expect when you come in for a workout. Every day they provide a new workout that challenges students mentally and physically. Individuals working out on their own can choose new locations, try different exercises or other breaks in routine to keep themselves excited and engaged about their resolution. You can apply this same technique to your resolutions as well by simply changing the venue or the pace. This something I have personally found success in by incorporating biking, yoga, and hiking into my ongoing exercise plan. Regardless of what type of physical fitness program you undertake, whether that be strength training, cardio, or flexibility, you will definitely go farther and longer in terms of making a lifestyle change by mixing things up.
Ready. Set. Change…Smartly!!!
Making change is involved but very achievable. Arm yourself with the right mindset and goal setting process, put in place systems for accountability and visualize success and you will make the personal change you desire. We will continue to explore this topic throughout 2012 with lively articles and interviewed featured through our “Be Your Best 365” series.
If you enjoyed this article please feel free to share it socially using the social media icons below or tweet: Don’t Fail Your Resolutions @beforliving #beyourbest365
Marc Winitz is senior technology executive, 4th degree black belt and author of the self development blog Black Belt Guide. He co-founded beforliving.com based on a vision of the convergence of technology, wellness and self development. You can follow him on Twitter @marcwinitz.
Photo Courtesy of David Compton
Note: Some links in this post direct to the Amazon Affiliates program.