Now-a-days, it seems like a lot of people don’t bother with New Year’s resolutions because they think they just don’t work. However, finding ways to positively impact your life and your thinking can be important for improving your mental well-being and overall health. Last month, I talked about how integrating positive thinking into your daily schedule can be helpful. This month, I want to discuss how you can stick to that change or any other change you want to implement in your life.
The strategies here aren’t just for New Year’s resolutions, but can apply to anything you’ve always wanted to try to do. Whether it be learning a new skill, starting a new initiative or changing your daily routine, these steps help you make more tangible progress.
Perhaps the easiest step to skip when deciding to make a change, understanding why you want to do it is one of the best ways to motivate yourself to make a change. It is important to ask yourself how the change may add meaning or happiness to your life. If you can connect the change you want (say, learning how to draw) with a sense of meaning (finding a way to creatively express yourself) you are far more likely to be able to motivate yourself to keep to the change.
Evaluating barriers that may make it harder for you achieve this change ahead of time is also important. If you identify these barriers ahead of time, it allows you to handle them better when they come up. For instance, if your goal is to exercise more but you know that you feel self-conscious exercising because you don’t want to look like you don’t know what you’re doing, perhaps spending some time developing a detailed plan for each day will help you feel more prepared.
It can be really helpful to look at changes you have wanted to make in the past and ask yourself why it may not have happened that time
FOCUS ON ACTIONABLE STEPS AND SMALL INCREMENTS
New Year’s resolutions (and personal changes in general) are often incredibly broad (eg. learn to play an instrument) and thus it can be difficult to understand when you’re making progress. By focusing on small steps that are a simple “to-do” task (eg. learn one chord this week), it is far easier to understand what you need to do to improve.
This allows you to celebrate progress far easier, and by breaking it down you can also better understand when you’re not making progress.
Take your change or goal and break it down into a series of sub-goals: then take each of these and provide a timeline for when you want to do it by. By setting these mini-deadlines, you become more mentally committed, while by describing each task as an “actionable item” (eg a To-Do list), the task becomes a lot less daunting. It’s also far easier to celebrate little successes and feel like you’re making progress, which is incredibly important for staying motivated. If you’re looking for a more in depth exploration of this, check out this video from Charisma on Command that talks about how to apply this to learning new skills.
HAVE COMPASSION FOR YOURSELF
By this I mean give yourself the patience and understanding that you would provide anyone else. Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements discusses how "we would never hold other people to the standard we hold ourselves to and that we’re the only animal that blames ourselves for mistakes repeatedly. "
However, accepting the fact that we may stray from our plan to make a change will accomplish two things. First, it allows us to better anticipate and handle those difficulties. Second, it allows us to employ a growth mindset when facing what we deem as ‘failure’.
Providing ourselves with patience allows us to acknowledge times we deviate from our desire towards a specific goal as opportunities to learn how to prevent that in the future.
And this brings me to my final point: learning to analyze ‘failures’ and learning to improve on how we improve.
IMPROVING HOW YOU IMPROVE
Quality Improvement sectors in the healthcare system (the people who try to improve efficiency, safety and efficacy of care) often use what is called a PDSA cycle to understand how the changes they are implementing are affecting the system. This can be broken down in to four steps: Plan, Do, Study, Act.
The Plan step is related to understanding yourself. Plan what change you want to make, and predict what may stop you from making that change. Find what will motivate you and build your plan around that.
The Do step requires you to frequently make small, actionable changes that work towards your overall goal. You apply the change by focusing on steps that you can actually do, rather than concepts.
The Study step involves understanding how your change affected your overall goal. In Healthcare, this may mean seeing how a new check-in system reduces patient wait time. In terms of your personal change, this means understanding how your actionable step affected your progress towards your overall goal. Was it easy to start that task? Did you feel like you made progress? What difficulties did you experience when you did that actionable step.
Finally, the Act step is where you apply this new knowledge into improving your next actionable step. If you felt your last step worked well, this is where you strengthen why you think it worked well. If it didn’t, this is where you apply your new idea that you think will help with the barrier you faced.
Ultimately, the PDSA becomes a cycle where you repeat these steps to allow yourself to get better and improving each time. Sure this may require a lot more thinking and analyzing, but committing to a format like this can make a big difference in keeping yourself motivated and understanding your shortcomings.
If you’re looking for more information on PDSA cycles, here is some info from the Minnesota Department of Health.
Written by Paul Barber