New Year’s resolutions never seem to stick. Explore a more holistic approach.
2020 was a hell of a year, and many of us have been looking forward to a new beginning—one that might involve better overall wellbeing. Want to meditate more in 2021 or spend more time in nature?
Traditional resolutions almost never stick. Why do we so often fail at making change?
One theory that might provide an answer is the Transtheoretical Model of Change—or, less pretentiously, the Stages of Change theory. This idea was developed by psychologists in the 1970s and 1980s. The idea is that change doesn’t happen all at once. Instead, it needs careful contemplation and preparation. The stages are as follows:
Precontemplation: Not ready to admit something might need to change.
Contemplation: Considering that something might need to change, but not ready to really do anything about it.
Preparation: Getting ready to change by, for example, implementing supports and doing research.
Action: Making the actual change.
Lapse and relapse are often included here as valid additional stages that cycle between action and maintenance. A lapse is a momentary slip, while a relapse is going right back to whatever the old habit or lifestyle was. It’s normal to slip back into old behaviors from time to time, but that doesn’t mean all is lost. Lapse and relapse can be really important learning moments that actually solidify real long-term change.
If something’s not quite right in our lives, there’s a reason we haven’t changed. Our bad habits give us some benefit, and we have to be willing to let that benefit go if we want to change. The first three stages of this change
structure require that we come to terms with what we are losing when we decide to change.
Embracing the Stages of Change theory may be just what you need, but here are some other intentional ways to approach New Year’s Resolutions this year.
Think further ahead. Many of us make New Year’s resolutions around fitness, diet, or money management. It’s usually a reaction to the holiday season, when we spend a lot of money and eat
a little too much pumpkin pie. Think bigger.
What are your real goals for the next year—or even five years? How do these goals balance around physical, spiritual, intellectual, and social wellness? Don’t go on a diet. Instead, change the way you eat forever. Don’t commit to anything you don’t really want to do in the long term.
Try a decisional balance sheet. A decisional balance sheet is basically a list of pros and cons, but a little amped up. Phrase the choices this way: What are the pros and cons of changing? On a separate sheet, what are the pros and cons of staying the same? This sheet will help you understand why you haven’t changed yet and what kind of support you might need if you do want to change.
Honor the losses. Change almost always comes with a loss. It might be a small loss or a big one, and even the most positive changes come with some measure of letting go. Your decisional balance sheet will help you understand how your “bad” habit or lifestyle has benefited you. Perhaps it comforts you or helps you fit in, but it comes with a higher cost than you’re willing to pay now. Choosing to change will have an impact on your identity in some ways. Acknowledging that you might miss your old habit is important.
If it feels right, you might want to offer a small ritual to thank the old habit and let it go. This could be as simple as lighting a candle and mindfully throwing something out that represents the old habit, for example, or writing a letter to the old habit to thank it and let it know why you’re ready to move on now.
Focus on values. Your values represent who you are at a core level. These are the concepts and beliefs that are most important to who you are in the world. Naturally, these values can change as we get older, and 2020 might have been a real challenge to your values. This might be a time to let through a new identity, a new self-concept that focuses on what’s really important to you. If you want to make a change, it’s likely that you want to do so because your old self is no longer in alignment with who you are now and who you want to be in the future. Take some time to meditate, journal, or talk with someone you trust about how this change might help you shift more deeply into who you are in a new year.