It’s January 31st: Do you know where your New Year’s resolutions are?

The start of a new year is always an inspiring time. We reevaluate our current selves and look to make change for the better. It leads to a lot of folks starting new workout or diet regimens – often for the first time. I always love this energy in the gym (though it makes for a very crowded space,) because it means people are working on improving themselves – and better, happier people lead to a better, happier community.

Unfortunately, it also leads to a lot of short-lived changes and ultimately a lot of backsliding. Let’s be real here – I’m not the first person you’ve heard over the past two months talking about how to make better new years resolutions. I’ve gotten at least 100 emails promising me the latest and greatest tips on how to create a new, healthy lifestyle. Everyone understands that this backsliding is a common problem – but not everyone understands how to actually make change stick.

As a coach, a lot of my job (let’s be real – most of my job,) has to do with getting you to actually do the things you told me you wanted to do. Whether that goal is coming in to the gym 3x per week, or losing 20lbs, or changing your diet, it’s my job to hold you accountable. But what I don’t often talk about, and what I’d like to describe today, is the process of how I do that. The ‘how?’ of behavior change is the critical part of this story. Without it, your resolution to quit drinking (or eating badly, dating the wrong person, etc.) is likely to be tossed in the trash as quickly as your empty New Year’s eve champagne bottles.

Okay, we get it – How do you make a big, life-changing change stick?

First, get in the right head-space.

In her pivotal book “Mindset,” Carol Dweck outlines two mindset categories that people fall into – fixed vs. growth. To paraphrase a very smart woman very simply: a fixed mindset person believes that people ‘are who they are’ and there is no real capability for change. Contrarily, an individual with the growth mindset believes that there is a great potential for change, so long as a person is open to learning. These growth mindsetted people actually LIKE challenge – they thrive on it. They see failure not as a roadblock or a judgement on themselves but rather as an opportunity to learn. And any opportunity to learn, is an opportunity for growth.

A brief example. For most of my life, I have been squarely fixed mindset. If I failed at something (my dance training, grades at school) that meant I was a failure. I left little room for forgiveness (ahem, learning) and generally avoided challenges or change that would put me outside of my comfort zone and at risk for failure. When I graduated college and promptly fell flat on my face with no job and no clue what the next step was (other than moving back in with my parents,) failure and I became great friends. As my best bud, my failure followed me everywhere. I had a choice – wallow in sadness or change my mindset and start learning from my mistakes. I flopped through multiple marketing and administrative jobs (jobs that I not only hated but was also terrible at) until I found my course. But from the moment I found my career as a coach – I haven’t stopped learning. And with the amount of things to learn, I never will.

Does this sound like you? If it does – please remind yourself, every day: it is the effort to improve that is valuable. You will never be a failure if you continue to approach new changes and challenges as an opportunity to grow.

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Okay, so I’m ready to grow. What next?

Next you’ll determine where your sticking point is.
The outline below is my summation of the approach to making new habits described by Chip and Dan Heath in their book Switch. Thanks to them for being great teachers.
Ask yourself three questions, in regards to the change you want to make:
1. Is my biggest challenge intellectual?
2. Is my biggest challenge emotional?
3. Is my biggest challenge environmental?
Or, do you know what to do? Do you really feel that you should change? Do you have a clear path towards change?
Pick the ONE biggest challenge.
If your challenge is intellectual, you may not know what you need to do to change. If this is true, you have a few strategies at your disposal:
– Be a copycat. Seek out people around you that are successful at what you want, and steal their habits.
– Outline your endgame. Create a vivid image of what your life will look like when you make the change, memorize it and put it away.
– Define and focus on the specific behaviors that will get you to your endgame. And when I say specific, I mean specific. What exactly will you have to do? (Run every day at 6am? Prep 6 meals a week? Outline that shit, y’all.)
Pick ONE habit to focus on. Not all three.
If your challenge is emotional, you’ll want to make slightly different changes:
Identify yourself as the person you want to be. If you want to lose weight, for example, cultivate a fitness identity (this is also where you’ll need the growth mindset the most)
– Tap into your feelings. Find a deep, intrinsic feeling that you can attach to a habit that motivates you to make change.
– Make a small change. Pick one small habit to change that taps into both your new identity and your heart (like a ‘dieter’ adding more veggies to each meal.)
Again, pick ONE habit to focus on. Not all three.
If your challenge is environmental, you have some other options:
– If your situation doesn’t support your change, change your situation. (Is your happy hour habit helping you to your goals?)
– Create easy habits by using triggers (like laying out your clothes the night before a 6am run)
– Create a sense of community. Your behavior is contagious – spread it to your people, and they’ll push you to keep going. (get your BFF to go on healthy dinner dates with you instead of that happy hour.)
Getting the point yet?
So, from one of those categories you should get ONE solid tip to make a change that can stick with you. Only pick one – I know you might think you can change two or three things at once, but you can’t. Our brains can’t handle that shit. Make one change – actually make it, and maintain it – and let it snowball from there.

 

Wishing you lasting change,
Sam
Read these books, now: (or, the very smart people where I get all of my ideas from:)

Switch – Chip and Dan Heath – this is where all of the strategies for change I wrote about came from. Read it. Now.
Mindset – Carol Dweck
The Power of Habit –  Charles Duhigg

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