Let me state for the record that though there is a huge focus on making resolutions, I think the new year is one of the toughest times to adopt a new behavior. Many of us have just come through holidays when schedules were thrown to the wind, indulgences beckoned at every turn, and in the northern hemisphere, the days were dark and cold. There is less energy and momentum for the kinds of changes that people generally like to make which are most often about health and self-improvement.1 On top of that, we just have just come through 2020, the year which seemed to laugh in the face of goal setting.
That said, a recent survey reveals 74% of adult Americans are starting the year off with a resolution (up 15% from the year prior), and a full 55% think they will follow through.2 While 77% of people can make the desired change for a week, research shows only 19% of people can hold onto their changes for two years.3 Not surprisingly, both the percentage of people who make resolutions and the conviction in upholding them both decline with age.4
There are excellent books on the topic of making a habit stick, such as Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit which analyzes the process of habit, and more recently, James Clear’s Atomic Habits, with steps for each part of the habit loop. To summarize, you need a trigger that is obvious, a desire to engage in the act, a low barrier to action, and gratification upon completion.
Through coaching hundreds of people wanting to be either more organized or more productive, I noticed challenges in a slightly different way and offer a model to help, The ABCs of Behavior Change™. It offers five progressive steps to bring more commitment to the change you want to make and set you up for success.
Before getting into the techniques of implementing a specific change we must connect deeply with why it matters. If that connection to reason is missing, you might get started on a change due to some external motivation, and this may be enough for some people who fall into Gretchen Rubin’s tendencies driven by others’ expectations (read Gretchen’s book The Four Tendencies for more on this), but it may not enough to make it stick for the long term. Let’s dive in!
The ABCs of Behavior Change
A – Acknowledge
Acknowledge and accept the advantage the change will bring you. If you are still doubting, dig deeper to understand how the action will really help you. Do you truly buy into the benefit? What other questions need answering?
B – Believe
Believe that you are worth it. Making a change might mean putting yourself first and setting boundaries. For some, this is very uncomfortable. Are you ready to dance in discomfort? Can you give yourself permission to take action?
C – Cultivate
Cultivate an environment that encourages and supports you in making the change. This includes your physical environment and the people around you. Do you feel supported? Will you ask for what you need?
D – Defend
Defend, with grace, the boundaries you rely on to follow through on the change. Play with and practice respectful language to help others understand your priorities. Become more and more comfortable saying no. How will you play a graceful defense?
E – Engage
Engage deeply in the moment you complete the action. Note how you feel physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Let the positive feelings you discover be your intrinsic motivation inspire you to take action again. Will you stop and tune in?
Move through each of these steps to build a happy habit – one that you look forward to completing. If for some reason you break the chain, engage in this bonus step.
F – Forgive
Forgive yourself for not sticking to the change you wanted to make, but don’t stop there. Figure out which one of the first five steps wasn’t setting you up for success. Go back to that step, re-examine it, reconnect with it or adjust and move forward.
- Top New Year resolutions
The data is based on an online survey of 1,790 US adults born between 1928 to 2002 commissioned by Finder and conducted by Pureprofile in September 2020. Participants were paid volunteers.
- Percent making resolutions
- New Year resolution failure rate
Norcross, J C, and D J Vangarelli. “The resolution solution: longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts.” Journal of substance abuse vol. 1,2 (1988): 127-34. doi:10.1016/s0899-3289(88)80016-6
- New Year Resolutions and Conviction by Generation
If you’re looking for support in making a change, I offer private and group coaching for individuals and leaders. I invite you to book a call with me to explore.