Have you made any resolutions this year? Maybe you’ve already ‘failed’? Do you die a little bit inside at the thought of yet another New Year’s resolution falling flat on it’s face? I gave them up years ago. I personally think the success rate is around 20%, pretty low. My theory on why they fail is twofold. 1. We’re not really ready to give the thing up ( for a myriad of reasons) and 2. We are going about it the wrong way.
Think of the thing you’d like to change. I can bet you’ve already tried (and failed) to change this thing before. If we do the same things we get the same results – like that old adage – the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This is a roundabout way of saying try a different approach to get a different result. Don’t try harder, try different!
There’s a theory called the Transtheoretical Model (TMM) or Stages of Change developed by Prochaska and DiClemente in the late 70’s . It was developed after studying those successful in giving up smoking. It describes the various stages that happen in any behavioural change or giving up of habit. Here they are:
- Pre-contemplation – In this stage, people do not intend to take action in the foreseeable future (defined as within the next 6 months). People are often unaware that their behaviour/habit is problematic or produces negative consequences. People in this stage often underestimate the pros of changing behaviour and place too much emphasis on the cons of changing behaviour. We could also describe this as denial!
- Contemplation – In this stage, people are intending to start the healthy behaviour in the foreseeable future (defined as within the next 6 months). People recognise that their habit may be problematic, and a more thoughtful and practical consideration of the pros and cons of changing the behaviour takes place, with equal emphasis placed on both. Even with this recognition, people may still feel ambivalent toward changing their behaviour.
- Preparation (or Determination) – People are ready to take action within the next 30 days. People start to take small steps toward the behaviour change, and they believe changing their behaviour can lead to a healthier life.
- Action – In this stage, people have recently changed their behaviour and intend to keep moving forward with that behaviour change. People may exhibit this by modifying their problem behaviour or acquiring new healthy behaviours.
- Maintenance – In this stage, people have sustained their behaviour change for a while (defined as more than 6 months) and intend to maintain the behaviour change going forward. People in this stage work to prevent relapse to earlier stages.
- Termination – In this stage, people have no desire to return to their unhealthy behaviours and are sure they will not relapse.This is rarely reached, and people tend to stay in the maintenance stage, with it becoming easier to stay in the new way of being as time goes on.
Consider again that thing you want to change – can you place yourself in one of the stages? Maybe the payoff or reward is still too great and so you’re not yet in the action phase. For example, giving up chocolate – maybe eating it gives you a little respite from the January blues. Maybe the thought of facing going back to work without this little crutch is completely unappealing?
We underestimate the deep rootedness of our destructive ways and habits like overeating or people pleasing. Often developed in childhood as a response to our surroundings, an attempt to self soothe so we don’t feel unpleasant feelings, an escape. Sometimes these lead to substance use – smoking, alcohol and drugs or more ‘behavioural addictions’ such as gambling, internet/ social media addiction, shopping addiction, sex addiction, gaming addiction even cosmetic surgery addiction. And please don’t let the word addiction put you off. Modern theories explain addiction as a continuum with us all placed somewhere on the line. We don’t have to be a heroin addict on the streets to be classed as addicted. ( Read some Gabor Mate or Russell Brand for more on this) .In other words, our habits were formed a long time ago in response to something that felt big at the time (no matter how they manifest themselves today) and it takes more than willpower to shift them.
My hope is that that blog post will help you to give yourself the best fighting chance at breaking a habit or making a change.
So what can you do? Grab a pen and start writing on the below:
1. Pick the habit you’d like to change and recognise which stage you’re at with it. Maybe you’ve wanted to stop binge eating for years but are still only at the contemplation stage. This is OK! Accepting where you are will move your forward faster than beating yourself up.
2. What does this behaviour do for you? List all the benefits – maybe it helps you to de-stress, maybe it gives you some time just for you. Maybe it means people like you. Be totally honest. ALL habits bar none have a positive intention behind them, however warped this may seem.
3. List all your resistances – you’ll feel deprived if you give this up, life will be no fun, you’ll have no other source of comfort, you get the picture. Look at your language too. ‘Giving up’ is the language of deprivation. Can you reframe it as ‘putting down’ or ‘letting go of’ maybe this feels more empowering and less like deprivation?
4. Who/what will be affected if you cease this thing? How will giving this up impact your family, friends, partner, work life, social life. Don’t hold back, list all the positive and negatives.
5. In what ways are you likely to sabotage your efforts or go back to it? Think about your past endeavours. Maybe you fell off the wagon due to wanting to fit in or a particularly stressful day at work. Now think other ways to deal with these situations should they occur. Form a contingency plan. My favourites are journalling, calling a friend, drinking a glass of water, surrendering the problem to the universe/God/ a force greater than yourself ( it really works if you remember to do it!).
6. Write a letter to the part of you that wants to continue the habit or behaviour thanking it for all its done for you. Maybe keeping you calm, feeling safe, and tell it you can handle it from here on. It could go something like this.. ‘Dear part of me that wants to overeat… I know you are trying your best to ….. and I appreciate all you have done….’ ( often once you start these letters you feel the words just flow out!).
7. Make a commitment to yourself to start to make this change with the proviso that if you relapse it’s OK. If you wish you can also do this in letter form, sign and date it. Offer yourself some compassion rather than criticism if you do falter a few times. You are human and it’s OK to make mistakes.
Of course, some behaviours need more than this. If you really are struggling. I highly recommend making an appointment with a therapist or attending a twelve step recovery group such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous. ( google them and you can find a meeting near you). Maybe this is the year you change your life?
So much love to you,