No more resolutions!

Are you as bored with making New Year’s resolutions as I am? Every year we make our list, and although our intentions are good, most of us don’t make it past Feb. 1st before we lapse back into our old habits or patterns. It’s bad enough when this happens in our personal life (losing those last 10 pounds or spending more quality time with family are definitely resolutions we should keep). But when it happens in our professional life, it can mean financial disaster or burnout.

It’s some consolation to know we’re not alone. According to psychologist and neuroscientist Howard Rankin, founder of the American Brain Association, 80-90% of Americans don’t stick to their resolutions. Dr. Rankin, who’s been featured on The View, 20/20 and CNN, says he’s figured out why: “Most people try to do it through sheer willpower alone, and that won’t work. Without a more comprehensive strategy in place, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.”

I suppose that’s good news, since most of us have a willpower deficiency. But that doesn’t mean we just give up. “It’s entirely possible to create a better you in 2011,” Rankin confirms. “You simply have to be willing to really commit to these five steps. Lifestyle change isn’t a one-step fix…it’s a constant process. As I like to tell my clients, life is hard … and you need practice!”

So, in time for New Year’s Day, here are Rankin’s “Five Keys to Behavior Change”:

Step 1. Stoke Your Motivation. Most of us are in the habit of beating ourselves up if we lack motivation. Somehow, we think we’ve failed if we just can’t muster the energy to do a mall show or write a research report. But guess what? That’s normal. Motivation isn’t static; it ebbs and flows just like the tide. (Ever notice how you’re super-motivated at the outset of a personal change effort, but a week later you’ve run out of steam?) The key is to develop ways of keeping motivation at the forefront of your mind enough of the time to make a difference.

“Here’s where most people go wrong,” Rankin says. “They don’t realize that motivation is about emotion and passion — in other words, why you want to do something. They set goals — ‘I want to lose a few pounds’ — but have nothing in place to drive that behavior. The question is, why do you want to lose a few pounds? It’s the why that’s going to influence your actions. You might say, ‘I don’t want to have a stroke when I’m sixty like my dad did,’ or, ‘I want to live long enough to see my grandchildren graduate from college.’”

Rankin suggests coming up with a mantra that captures your why (for example, ‘Fit at Fifty, Free at Sixty’) and visualizing both what you don’t want (you eating junk food and having a heart attack) and what you do want (you exercising and enjoying an outing with your family). Yes, it’s okay to be negative! In most instances, he points out, it’s a fear of loss and negative consequences that kick-starts motivation the hardest.

Applying this to a chiropractic office, you can think about WHY you want to increase your patient volume. It may actually be so you can help more people live healthier lives … or it may be you want to retire at 50. Either way, focus on the WHY rather than on the numbers.

Step 2. Find a Way to Self-Monitor. A great deal of human behavior is done on autopilot — so if you want something to change, you’ll have to pay attention to your own behavior and experience. Otherwise, by the time you realize you’re going in the wrong direction, it’ll be too late. Yes, the concept is simple (in theory, anyway): Vigilance is associated with success. The more you’re aware of what you’re doing, the more you can control it.

“No matter what your resolution is, you have to find ways of monitoring yourself,” Rankin asserts. “Most people write down their behavior patterns, but you might just as effectively talk into a recorder. Not only does keeping a record help you pay attention to what you’re doing, it allows for subsequent analysis that will help you understand what prompts your behavior, and any patterns it might fall into.”

Since many people tend to self-monitor with diligence in the beginning but gradually become more and more lax, Rankin suggests recording every instance of a successful or unsuccessful behavior in the first week. Thereafter, pick one day a week for self-monitoring.

Step 3. Hone Your Self-Control Skills. While willpower goes only so far without good habits to bolster it, it’s still an important part of the lifestyle change equation. Self-control is a critical skill when changing a behavior and the good news is that it can be developed.

“There are two broad approaches to managing temptation,” Rankin explains. “The first is avoidance. But let’s face it — that’s not always possible. A better strategy is to confront your temptation and develop a controlled way to deal with it. As I’ve mentioned before, visualization is a valuable tool because it allows you to ‘practice’ your self-control without being exposed to real-life dangers and pitfalls. Essentially, on a daily basis you need to imagine yourself successfully resisting difficult situations.”

Step 4. Identify and Manage “Backsliding” Red Flags. You may have noticed: Your moods, outlooks, and attitudes tend to change almost constantly — and they play an important part in the decisions we make and the way we behave. Many people are more prone to make unhealthy decisions, give in to temptation, or otherwise “backslide” when they’re tired, stressed, or angry, to name a few common weak spots.

“Fortunately, knowledge is power,” Rankin assures. “When you are able to identify and anticipate things that typically cause you to slide into a self-destructive state, you’ll be much better equipped to handle them. For example, if you know that having to present at the quarterly meeting will cause you to stress-eat whatever’s in the breakroom for days beforehand, you can proactively practice other stress-management techniques, such as deep breathing exercises and, yes, visualization.”

To help you identify and then manage self-destructive states, ask yourself what moods, physical states (e.g., pain, fatigue), people, places, and times of day are associated with self-destructive states. Then brainstorm how you can manage them, how you can avoid them, and who can help you handle them effectively.

Step 5. Take a Hard Look at the “Other People” Factor. The fact is, others have a huge influence over our behavior, and since no one lives in a vacuum, you’ll have to factor in other people when going after your resolution-keeping goals. It’s important to realize that no matter what your preconceived opinions or decisions might be, your behavior will slowly but surely change to reflect that of the people you spend time around.

So, if you’re surrounded by CAs, associates or staffers who don’t share your goals, it’s time to re-evaluate if you’re in the right office (or if THEY are!)

“These five steps are the basics,” Rankin concludes. “They’ll give you the foundational tools you need to optimize your life in 2011. As you approach the New Year, think about how each step applies to you specifically, and how you can hardwire it into your day-to-day routine. This sort of strategizing doesn’t happen on the fly. You have to make time for yourself so that you can focus on your own needs — ideally, you should have one hour of ‘me time’ every day.

“It won’t be easy, but it will be effective. If you take one resolution at a time and build behavior change slowly, you’ll be amazed at how much healthier your life is when it’s time to celebrate the coming of 2012. Guaranteed!”

For more information on Rankin and his programs, visit Scienceofyou.com.

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