So it’s a new year. The pressure to look optimistically and confidently ahead, resolve to change old ways, and embrace the new is palpable.
Forget it. Most people really don’t want to change, and some shouldn’t even try.
While I hate to be the Scrooge of New Year Present, I guarantee that human nature won’t radically change in the coming year. I have spent the last 15 years working with people seeking behavioural change and it has taught me a lot about a paradox of human behaviour. On the one hand, why it can be so difficult to change and, on the other, why it can happen as quickly as a bolt of lightning.
Here are a few of my clients’ hard-earned lessons as to why change just doesn’t happen like magic on New Year’s Eve.
Pick wrong goals
Most of the things we pick to change we really don’t want to change. We may think we want the end result: to be thinner, healthier, more organized, or less stressed, for example, but, in reality, we don’t want to engage in the behaviour it will take to achieve those goals. We fail to appreciate that accomplishing a meaningful result will require us to do something different forever – not just until the goal is achieved.
It is important to recognize that we engage in an activity because we enjoy it at some level. Eating well is a pleasure, finishing things at the last minute gives us a buzz, experiencing stress makes us feel alive. The only time you can change yourself is when you feel ‘”unbalanced” – when you recognize that your day-to-day behaviour is creating more stress than you can manage, and it is that daily activity you need to change. If something isn’t going to make your life better, easier, more enjoyable, why bother? If you are in a tolerable state of equilibrium, resist the urge to start something you know you won’t finish.
Assumption change takes time
The experts tell us that change takes time. The consensus is that you should expect to work at forming a new habit for at least 30 days to six months. That is a lie. I have witnessed a remarkable change in people when they come to the realization that something isn’t working for them. In those cases, it does not take them days or months to make a change; the shift is virtually instantaneous, and it is wondrous to observe. Gaining insight into what, exactly, it is in our beliefs or behaviour that is creating difficulties for us is often the most difficult aspect of change.
When that light goes on, watch out. Once we understand what is not working, we can instantly make the changes we need to make a correction. We are remarkably adaptable creatures when our survival is threatened.
Magical formulas are a myth
Insecurity, or lack of self-confidence, has made the self-help business a lucrative one. Books and multi-step programs have made millionaires of people feeding on normal human traits. While they can be useful and have their place (you might pick up some good tips on how to make the changes you are striving for), I bet that if you sat down and thought introspectively for a few minutes, you would recognize exactly what you need to do differently to meet your goals. Spending time and experiencing false hopes by reading a shelf of books or attending meetings is avoidance – nothing less.
Go back and re-think whether you have picked the right goal. Then write down three things you want to do to change your behaviour. Only three; any more is unmanageable and unrealistic.
Maybe change isn’t worth the effort
If you really want that New Year’s resolution to work, don’t get hung up on how difficult change is. Change isn’t difficult. What is difficult is doing things when you don’t really want to. People and organizations struggle with change when they don’t see any really good reason to change. So, if you are happy with where you are now, relax. And if you’re not, remember that every morning you wake up to a new day, it is in your power to decide what you are going to do with it.
Rebecca Schalm, PhD, is founder and CEO of Strategic Talent Advisors Inc., a consultancy that provides organizations with advice and talent management solutions. For interview requests, click here.
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