Why breaking New Year's resolutions is the best thing you can do

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Judith Bowtell

Achieve your big goals for 2018 by tackling them as a series of small, modest, actionable, research-based tests.
Why breaking New Year's resolutions is the best thing you can do

So did you start your year with a bang and a promise to:

  • Declutter your house/office/car/life?
  • Finish that diploma/renovation/other project?
  • Get a new job/new house/new partner/new life?

Congrats if you did – and well done if you have fallen at the first, second or third steps. Because, as research has proven, failure is the best way to maintain a lasting change in your life. 

The Immunity to Change is a theory posited by researchers in psychology and adult learning, Robert Keegan and Lisa Laskow. 

In this model our “immunity” to change is a hard-wired mechanism to preserve the status quo, and thereby limit our exposure to anxiety and fear – emotions that prompt the “fight, flee, freeze” responses in ourselves.

When we are stuck making a change in our behaviour that we believe will benefit us, it is due to an underlying contradictory thought pattern or belief. Until this belief is challenged and resolved, we will constantly come up against it, leading us at risk of seeing ourselves as “failures” in this area of our life. 

One way of resolving these long-held beliefs, is to create SMART goals – small, modest, actionable, research-based tests – that will allow us to collect experience and data that creates a different world view to our belief, but does not trigger our anxiety buttons.

These modest “tests” or steps to change are simply that – an experiment in what might happen if we do something different today then we did yesterday.  

Examples might include:

  • DECLUTTER: Have a box or bag at the front door where you place unwanted object each day/week and when full take it to the op shop, recycle or chuck out.
  • NEW JOB: Contact one person from your work network you have not spoken to for over 12 months and invite them to coffee for catch up. Make sure its someone you genuinely want to meet up with.
  • REDUCE WASTE: Keep reusable shopping bags in the boot of your car or near the front door, so it is easy to remember your commitment to change. 

Now you may or may not do this – and that does not matter, as achieving is not the aim of the test. What we are aiming to do is to learn what works for you. 

Without the freedom to fail, we become fearful. Life becomes a place of passing/failing judgement rather than a series of experiments and learnings.

Change and moving forward require risks – small, modest risks to do something new with the outcome unknown. 

If you can embrace this view your resolutions become pathways to self-discovery, rather than yet another “failure” we can use to convince ourselves we are not good enough and beat ourselves up over.

Take another look at where you stopped in your promise to yourself, with a compassionate heart not a judgemental head. 

See what information you have learned about your tactics and strategies, and see what you could do differently.  

Read, research, ask experts in that area, and then start again – maybe a smaller step this time so you can check in earlier and see how this is working for you. 

Keep going step by step by step, adjusting as you go, with patience and self-compassion and something new will emerge.  Maybe what you thought you wanted, maybe something altogether different and even better than what you thought was possible.

About the author

Judith Bowtell of Albany Lane is an executive coach and strategic consultant supporting the development of people and organisations in the arts, creative and cultural space. If you want to know about what I do go to and how it can help you or your place of work: www.albanylane.com.au.

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