Giant changes rarely take, or last. The progress of our year is littered with the epic resolutions we quickly and abashedly, let fall by the wayside. Why is this? Why can’t we hold onto those big, bodacious life changes we plan in early January? Because, and this is a little bit of tough love here, there is no such thing as a new you. There is just…you.
The science behind resolutions and habits or even goal-keeping is deep and interesting. As Benjamin A. Converse and Marie Hennecke write in Scientific American, those pesky realities of the moment are easy to forget when thinking about some unspecified time in the future. I would love a protein-rich, fruit & veggie smoothie for breakfast but who has the time or inclination to peel, wash, chop, blend and clean-up every morning?
During the last couple of weeks of December, my social media feeds were chocked full of people hawking the “New Year, New You!” idea of transformation. The goods ranged from protein shakes, vegetable pills and exercise subscriptions (hmmm, a pattern…) to food delivery services and self-empowerment classes. All it would take to create this better, healthier, stronger, smarter me, aside from me credit card, was a hefty dose of grit and a page-turn of the calendar.
Except that people don’t work like that.
In order to create big, sustainable changes, we have to start small and plan. You cannot become a world-famous motivational speaker until you overcome your fear of public speaking, and doing that involves learning techniques and applying skills and practicing. Repeatedly. Small, planned movements.
Even still, change can’t just happen. It requires effort. It requires a plan. To create sustainable change we must actually think differently and we must plan for obstacles. According to Katherine L. Milkman in The Washington Post, “piggybacking” or “temptation bundling” may help to create those new neural pathways. By tying a new action to something you already enjoy or do habitually, you may have greater success in maintaining that new action. To use the example of the breakfast smoothie, if when you’re preparing dinner the night before, you also chop and wash your fruits and veggies, you’ll be more apt to make your breakfast smoothie, taking small steps towards your greater health goals.
A final word on the whole “New You!” thing… Stop it. Yes, strive to be better, always, AND embrace who you are in this moment, including all of the weaknesses, foibles, faults and extra poundage. We can all be a little kinder, healthier, helpful, more communicative, less judgmental, etc. Everyone struggles. Everyone. Small, considered changes are the conversations that will grow into epic dialogues that will eventually, change the world.
LB Adams is the Founder of Practical Dramatics headquartered in Charleston, SC. Her company provides fun, interactive soft skills training events utilizing theatre strategies to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans.