Some of us enter a new year by resolving to make certain behavior changes – relative to personal habits or interests or career directions or how we treat others.
It is easier to decide to change a behavior than it is to actually change it. The large number of people who fail to maintain a diet or stop smoking is well-documented. The operative word in this matter is “fail”. Before considering a non-success to be a failure, think about the circumstances that led to the decision.
We often try to make a behavior change at a time when we have inadequate data about a lot of things. We may not recognize how hard it will be. We may not recognize that we are not as motivated as we thought we would be. And we may have set the bar too high.
Most significantly, we may be assigning a pass/fail criteria to something that really rests on a continuum. Exercising 5 days a week or cutting your daily calorie intake in half or reading a book a week is admirable, and some people are successful at it, but it is hard – particularly if you have no history of doing those activities.
If you set a goal that is worthy in terms of health or socialization or intellectual development, but it proves to be too hard to keep you motivated, there is an alternative to giving up.
Treat your non-success as a source of information. It gives you information that your goal for change may have been too ambitious. You had set your goal at a time when you had inadequate information – but it doesn’t mean that the goal is wrong. The measure of success may be the thing that is wrong – at least for the present.
Be willing to modify a goal that you are not achieving. Exercising one or two days a week is better than what you were doing before – if you weren’t exercising at all. Reading for 15 minutes a night may be better than what you were doing before – even if it takes a month to finish a book. And avoiding deserts every other day may be an effective way to start a diet.
Did you ever take a class in school that was either very hard or didn’t interest you, and you were willing to get by with a C? Keep that idea in mind when a behavior change isn’t going as well as you would like. Maybe you overestimated how easy it would be to get an A in a subject called Changing My Behavior. Be willing to modify your thinking – as long as your behavior is changing in the right direction.
If you can modify your thinking and tolerate a lesser amount of positive change rather than giving up, you will be able to build upon it and achieve greater change in the future.