The Essence of Change

It’s New Year Resolution time! We all know what this means, the gym will be more crowded, the health and wellness industry will see a massive spike in sales, and tobacco products may see a sudden decrease in profits.  The office will be a buzz with people starting off the New Year right as they start to implement their changes for 2014.  And by mid February, what happens?  People start sliding back into their old ways, their goals and resolutions slowly drifting back into the shadows as if they never existed.  Why? 

As a psychotherapist, I sell change.  I help people make the transitions they want to see in their life and this isn’t a process I only see around the New Year.  I’m lucky enough to bare witness to this process year round.  I see many successes and failures along the way and I would say I’ve gained some insight into what creates “wins” and “losses” in the change department.  

There are several key reasons for failure that are important to avoid.  For those of you familiar with DiClemente & Prochaska’s model know that we move through several distinct phases leading up to change.  In the original model, it lacked a very key stage, which is relapse.  As we make our way toward maintaining a lifestyle change, we will have slip ups, slide backwards, and resume old habits.  That’s how most human beings operate.  The problem?  Most people see relapse as a complete failure when in fact, it is nothing more than part of the change process.  They throw in the towel giving up all progress when it’s merely an expected bump in the road.

Another common mistake I see is the “180”.  Now, it’s not impossible to make a radical change, but it is much more difficult to maintain and here’s why: long-standing change usually needs gradual cognitive and behavioral shifts over a longer period of time than a measly 24 hours.  If we are to be successful at any change, especially a 180, we must start the cognitive shift long before the behavioral shift. Why?  The mind controls our perceptions, our expectations, and our rationale preparing and motivating us for success.  All of these are necessary components of long standing change.  The part where people most commonly fail is that they start these cognitive shifts far too late.   Easy solution: see your New Year’s Resolutions as a work in progress, something you are going to work toward in the coming year, not just simply begin on January 1, 2014.

A tangent of the “180” goal is lack of preparation.  If we are to, in fact, succeed at a radical change, we must have the adequate time to prepare our environment for this change to take place.  Take quitting smoking for example.  I can’t tell you how many times quitting smoking was a New Year’s Resolution of mine.  I would always tell myself, “this is my last cigarette” at 11:59 on New Year’s Eve.  I still had all my lighters in my car, stashed in my bedside table, and one to two in my kitchen.  Sometimes I even had cigarettes still at home along with ashtrays filled with smoked butts.  To adequately prepare for change, we must prepare our environment to sustain it.  That means getting rid of the “old habit propaganda” and replacing it with more appropriate materials (i.e. running shoes, water bottle, gum, pens, etc.).

Do not make the mistake that we can extinguish a behavior and not replace it with something else.  Humans don’t fair too well with voids or boredom.

Lastly, the one thing to avoid from the very start is not to overload yourself with too many changes at once.  Keep in mind that it takes some time for our minds and bodies to adjust to change.  Therefore, if we try to quit smoking, eat healthier and work out 5 days a week when our norm is to smoke daily, eat whatever we want, and go to the gym every once in awhile, this may blow up in your face long before mid February arrives (trust me, I know).  To prevent the feeling of being overwhelmed, limit yourself to three goals that are all interconnected.  For example, “I’m going to quit smoking, drink water when I have cravings, and substitute water for all beverages except for my morning and afternoon coffee.”  This change will gradually lead you to the healthier lifestyle you’re seeking allowing you to concentrate the majority of your energy on the hardest task, quitting smoking, while engaging in other behaviors that help support this and are somewhat easier to uphold. 

In conclusion, expect relapse and take it for what it is, your body and mind being resistant to change.  Avoid 180 goals without proper preparation and be mindful of putting too many big changes on your plate at once.  Set yourself up for success by setting realistic goals with a plan in which to execute them.  For more tips on creating and maintaining change, make sure to check out the new eCourse I’m launching titled “Ignite: Tap into your Power & Create Your Best Self”.  20% off for all readers following Dumb Little Man.  Make 2014 the year you get it right!

Written on 12/27/2013 by Megan Hale. Megan Hale is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Lifestyle Coach. She specializes in helping others not only recover from mental health issues, but taking their life to a whole new level. She believes everyone has the ability to create the life they want by utilizing simple therapeutic tools that have a huge impact. You can connect with her at and learn more about her eCourses by visiting Now accepting new students for “Ignite: Tap into your Power & Create Your Best Self” beginning January 13th.

Photo Credit: Sean MacEntee


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