The Formula for Success in 2011
By Peggy Marshall
It’s January-the time of year that many of us make resolutions-changes that we are absolutely committed to in 2011. Or maybe you decided that you didn’t want to make a resolution this year because you always lose momentum early and feel that you have failed. I am going to be discussing a strategy to help you rethink what success means to you. The strategy is to monitor our movement through the stages of change-not just the end goal. Just moving through the stages of change into action is a great success. Also, I am using the word goals rather than resolutions because we can come close to reaching goals with resolutions we are entering an either-or space. Thinking about the changes we want to make in terms of goals recognizes that we take actions towards targets rather than being firmly resolved to either do something or not do something.
In any behavior change we go through stages that lead to ultimate success with the change. When we understand that behavior change is fluid rather than fixed we can be more empathetic of occasional lapses and “get back on the horse” more quickly. The first stage in behavior change is pre-contemplative. In this stage we consider whether we own the problem or whether someone else wants something for us that we don’t want for ourselves. It is critical that any behavior change we undertake is one that we own. Thus, if you are trying to lose weight, exercise more, become more organized, etc., make sure that it is something you want to accomplish in 2011.
The next stage is contemplative. At the end of 2010 and possibly into early 2011, we may have reflected about what we would truly like to change in 2011. We may have asked for input from others, but the change we want comes from our heart. Contemplation implies that we have reflected about what we are trying to accomplish, explored the benefits and disadvantages and determined that it is the right option for us.
Once we become clear about what change we want we move to the stage of planning for action. In this stage we decide what tools and resources we will need to be successful with the change. For example, if losing weight is your goal, you plan your meals and buy the foods you need to eat successfully. If being more organized is your goal, you buy the file folders and files so that you can organize. You might also engage friends or family members to help you stay focused. In this stage we focus on what we need to start doing. I also encourage my clients to think about what they need to stop doing so that they can prepare for the obstacles that may thwart them from being successful. For example, if we have set aside one hour a day for anything relating to their goal, what might interfere with that hour? Do they need to schedule the hour when they are least likely to be interrupted? How will they handle those interruptions? Do they need to set boundaries with family or friends for the time they need to accomplish the goal?
Now, we are ready to take the action. As the Nike commercial states, “we just do it.” We have written in our gratitude journal, we have read that first hour upon wakening, our office is organized, we are exercising, we are eating better, etc. In this stage we are doing the thing we want most to accomplish in 2011. We feel excited, exhilarated and are looking forward to successfully accomplishing our goal.
So what can go awry? Our habitual behaviors will sneak in to take us off course. Ninety-five percent of what we do is habit. We do most behaviors without thinking. So this new behavior requires focus and thought. It also requires us to establish new neural pathways in our brain so just because we have started the new way of behaving doesn’t mean it’s a once and done issue. We will continually be pulled into old ways of behaving so we need to be prepared for this. This is why in planning for action, we try to identify most of the obstacles so we can plan for them. Even if you haven’t planned for the obstacle, you experience it and determine that you still want the new behavior so you continue on towards your goal. This is the stage-recidivism-in which most people give up on their goal. They think they have failed because they couldn’t keep up the momentum towards success. Don’t be pulled into this all or nothing thinking. You made it through four stages of change. Now, re-evaluate your progress, tweak your behaviors and start again. Do you have the right tools and resources? Have you carefully thought through the obstacles? Celebrate your progress and remind yourself that missteps are all part of change!
Somewhere between 60 and 90 days, you can expect that the behaviors that lead to success of your goal are now becoming habits. You are exercising, eating more healthily, organizing, communicating more effectively, etc. You may have not reached the ultimate goal but you are on your way. My hope for you is that as you work on 2011 goals you will be both gentle and firm with yourself. Firm in that you believe in your goal, but gentle with your progress towards the goal. And celebrate your successes on the way!
To your success!