New Year – New You

There’s no doubt that at some point in the last week you have thought about change.  Your intentions will be real enough and you will have learnt from last year won’t you?  

This year if you have made resolutions they will have been realistic, there will be fewer of them and you’ll really stick to them.  Right?

The problem is that you still have a nagging doubt.  Sure, you intend to lose weight, cut down on drinking, get out of your career rut or whatever else, but part of you worries that come February the progress that you had been hoping for won’t really be evident and by the middle of the year you’ll be pretty much where you are now!

So, how can this be avoided?  How can you get a better outcome? 

You know that you can’t make someone else change – whether you encourage them, coach them or cajole them.  If another person isn’t ready to be different, a real danger is that you push them away from change.  This is known as ‘psychological reactance’; in short, those who perceive their freedom or liberty is under threat will take steps to protect and/or reclaim it. 

What isn’t always appreciated is that the same thing happens inside your own head.  When it comes to personal change, you really are made up of separate parts. 

Here are our top ten tips for making successful personal change.

  1. If you want to change, make sure that what you are planning is for you.  It’s all too easy to own other people’s stuff.  Great if it’s a shared objective but you really can’t borrow someone else’s motivation!

  2. Don’t think about how you deal with change as a fixed trait in yourself.  This assumption often comes across in comments like “I’m just not a motivated person in that way” or “I’m too old to change”.  Motivation arises in, and is the product of your interactions with people.  It can come and go, and can be improved or worsened by particular relationships.  Therefore, no one can be described as an “unmotivated person” and most of all that applies to you!

  3. Keep in mind that ambivalence (that is, simultaneously being against and for a change) is normal, even though it can be frustrating.  In fact, given that this is a tough place to be, the last thing you should do at this point is beat yourself up because you aren’t ready to make a decision.  Stick with it and be kind to yourself.  Give yourself time.

  4. If you are stuck, avoid self-criticism, “shoulds” and “oughts”.  Instead, ask yourself questions and be curious.  Don’t just ask any questions though.  Ask questions that are open, like “what do I like about the idea of change?”  Doing this can be very refreshing.  Some other questions to consider asking yourself include: “What do I like about not changing?  What do I like about the possibility of change?  How does my behaviour fit with what’s important to me in life?  Where will I be in five years if I do change?  Where will I be if I don’t?”

  5. Don’t get into a wrestling match with yourself.  Change involves discomfort.  Welcome that discomfort, be curious about it and let it run its course.  Don’t start getting anxious about being anxious!  It doesn’t help.

  6. Accept that nearly all change will involve loss.  You will need to give something up.  Reflect on your attachment to what you are giving up.  Be realistic at the beginning and honest with yourself.

  7. Listen to yourself.  As we hear ourselves talk, we learn what we believe.  When you hear statements that imply a readiness, need, ability, reasons for or commitment to change, reflect on them, so you hear them again.  Better still: write your thoughts down.

  8. You wouldn’t lecture, try to persuade, moralise, judge, warn, threat, try to emotionally analyse, or attempt to manipulate someone else if you really wanted them to own the changes they want to make.  So don’t do these things to yourself.  Be self-accepting but still commit to that which you really want.

  9. Don’t rise to any obvious or subtle displays of resistance to change in yourself.  Roll with them, remain calm, recognise that you have the right to choose what to do, and consider changing focus if the resistance keeps happening.

  10. If things don’t go anywhere, you have to accept that, despite your best efforts, at this point you just aren’t in a position to change.  Be prepared to re-visit your change objectives at a future time.  Turn to something else for a while.  Exercise self-compassion.

Good luck and a very Happy New Year from Sixth Sense.  If you like our ideas, keep an eye out for our book Staying Sane in Business with its accompanying website  Both will be out in April.

This blog has been written with the help of our friend and trusted associate, Dr Michael Brown, Clinical Psychologist.  We hope to share more of Mike’s ideas over the next 12 months.

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