"It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change."
- Charles Darwin
(3.5 Minute Read or Listen Below)
We love to hate change. Most of us make new year resolutions, only to abandon them by the middle of February, if not sooner.
Of American adults who declare resolutions for January 1, only 8% of them achieve their goals by year-end. Whether the goals are small and easily achievable, or significant and life-changing, the achievement rate remains unchanged. Why don't we keep the commitments we make to ourselves? My theory is, change is about habits, and habits can be hard to change.
Research shows half of our everyday behaviors are repeated in the same location every day. Sometimes, this is good. After all, habits conserve the brain's energy. But how do we increase our chances of successfully changing counterproductive behaviors or creating new beneficial behaviors?
When we believe it's time to make a change, we generally burden ourselves with a laundry list of perceived shortcomings that will instantly resolve when the calendar flips to January 1. We declare we will lose weight, eat healthy, exercise more, quit smoking, get organized, achieve inbox zero, and spend less time on our cell phone. And our delusion is we will accomplish all of these improvements at the same time! In most instances, the habits formed around these behaviors are deeply ingrained and not likely to be conquered by willpower alone. Yet this is still what we expect of ourselves.
Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, found it takes more than two months, on average, before a new behavior becomes automatic. Sixty-six days to be exact, not the 21 days we have so long been lead to believe. In Lally's 2009 research article, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit. The time required to develop new habits varied on a multitude of factors, including the behavior to be changed, the person, and the circumstances.
Typically, when we have not achieved perfection on all our resolutions by day 21, we throw in the towel and call it quits. After all, this "change" thing is hard. But change rarely happens in a straight line. Our negative behaviors often return or lurk in the background. While we perceive the lingering of these undesirable behaviors as a sign of failure, nothing could be further than the truth. It presents an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and develop the skills to persevere through uncomfortable feelings and to trust ourselves. But we rarely set ourselves up for success when it comes to change.
Our brains have limited resources, and our willpower is like a muscle. When it gets tired, we more easily revert to old patterns. The more frequently we perform the new behavior, the weaker the old habit becomes. Therefore, it helps to begin with small changes, one at a time, that don't require much willpower.
So how do we give ourselves a fighting chance at success? We must be reasonable and have a solid plan. The framework of The 5 Step Productive Environment Process™ is a great tool to help you formulate that plan. The steps below sound simple, but don't underestimate their impact.
Within you, you have everything you need to be successful. With enough repetition of your desired behavior, connections will be made and strengthened in your brain. Over time, your new practice will require less effort and will become your default pattern. Keep assessing your progress and adjusting where needed.
Be patient with yourself, and remember, you are your greatest asset!
"Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." ~Barack Obama