Suppose, for example, you’ve decided to stop using the words “right” and “wrong” — substituting them instead with “works” and “doesn’t work.”
Now, what do you do if you slip and use the word “right” or “wrong?” Do you get upset with yourself? Do you blow it off? Do you even notice?
What I’ve noticed about resolutions is that we often give them up if they are hard to follow, not because we want to give them up.
We have a very strong human need to be internally consistent. It’s more consistent to maintain the habit and give up the resolution than it is to act inconsistently by maintaining both the old behavior and the resolution.
So what we need is a consistent response to habitual behavior that will support us in making the transition from the old behavior to the new one.
4 Tips That Will Help You Stick With New Resolutions
1. Catch yourself engaging in the old behavior. When you decide to change a behavior, realize that the behavior is imbedded in all your mental models, scripts, and muscle memory. Your old behavior will likely show up even though you are committed to changing it. So the first step is to become aware of exhibiting the old habit as soon as possible anytime you engage in it.
2. Forgive yourself. Hopefully, this is self-explanatory. However, we often have such high expectations of ourselves and become frustrated with our own lack of perfection. Just today I heard the story of life-long over-achiever who committed suicide, probably because he hadn’t lived up to his own expectations of achievement. Self-forgiveness might have saved his life, and it can save yours.
This is where the “consistency principle” kicks in. If we can forgive ourselves instead for our imperfection and inconsistency, we can continue to give the change a chance.
3. Correct your path. As soon as possible, demonstrate the resolved behavior.
4. Vow to catch yourself sooner. This is the potent part of the process. All you have to do to ensure that you eventually change from your old habit to your resolved way of being is catch yourself engaging in the old habit sooner each time. The sooner you catch yourself, the faster you forgive and correct. This way, you never have to worry about the old behavior continuing to show up. Instead, you can be certain that it eventually will disappear.
Get Started With This 5-Minute Stretch
Consider an important resolution that you made and gave up on or are having some trouble following. Take greater responsibility and apply the resolution process by starting right now with Step No. 2 (forgive yourself).
Write and tell us about your resolution and how you intend to apply this process in a comment!
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Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.