20% isn’t a stellar average rate of success. A number like that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. And yet, every year, millions of Americans make a vow to change their lives for the better in a tradition that only 1 in 5 sees to fruition – the New Year’s resolution.
The problem New Year’s resolutions run into is that they are entirely dependent upon the people who make them to fulfill them. That means behaviors, habits, circles of friends, routines, the things they’re familiar with, must change. And historically, people have struggled to adopt change, even when it’s for the better. This difficult relationship with change is at the heart of New Year’s resolutions’ consistent failure – and when we look a little closer, it’s also the secret to making real, long-lasting growth happen.
New Year’s Resolutions vs. Real, Substantial Change
Before you make your New Year’s resolution, ask yourself if you relate to change like “most people” do in these five key ways.
1. MOST PEOPLE CHANGE ONLY ENOUGH TO GET AWAY FROM PROBLEMS, NOT ENOUGH TO FIX THEM.
“I want to stop smoking.” “I want to lose weight.” “I want to drink more water.” Most New Year’s resolutions are focused on behaviors or consequences of problems, rather than underlying causes, and that’s because people would rather change their circumstances to improve their lives when instead they need to change themselves to improve their circumstances. They put in just enough effort to distance themselves from their problems without ever trying to go after the root, which can often be found in themselves. Because they don’t try to change the source of their problems, their problems keep coming back at them.
Author Julio Melara says, “If your career, marriage, job, and life are to improve, you must change. In the mirror you are looking at the problem and the solution. It begins with you making a decision. The people who reach their potential no matter what their background or profession think in terms of improvement.” If you want to get better, you need to be willing to change yourself.
2. MOST PEOPLE DO THE SAME THING THE SAME WAY, YET EXPECT DIFFERENT RESULTS.
If you’re like most people, you might find the same few New Year’s resolutions on your annual itinerary year after year – and the same plan to accomplish them, too.
But why do we keep trying the exact same thing expecting to get different results? It doesn’t make sense. What do we expect to change? Our luck? The laws of physics? How can our lives get better if we don’t change? How can we become better if we don’t expose ourselves to growing situations and people?
Entrepreneur Alan Cohen said, “To grow, you must be willing to let your present and future be totally unlike your past. Your history is not your destiny.” That mindset shows a flexibility of mind and a willingness to change, which are the price of learning.
3. MOST PEOPLE SEE CHANGE AS A HURTFUL NECESSITY INSTEAD OF A HELPFUL OPPORTUNITY.
For many, the New Year’s celebration is an annual reminder that their lives aren’t the way they’d like them to be. There’s a habit to break or a behavior to shift. But behind their discomfort with the symptom is a deeper, more discomforting reality: they don’t want to change. If they did, they would be living differently already!
Let’s face the fact: change is messy. Management expert Peter Drucker observed, “As every executive has learned, nothing new is easy. It always gets into trouble.” That difficulty and sense of trouble holds a lot of people back from changing. But life is change. Being born was painful. Learning to eat was messy. Learning to walk was difficult and painful. In fact, most of the things you needed to learn in order to live were tough on you. But you didn’t know any better, and you did what you needed to do to learn and grow. Now that you’re an adult, you have a choice. Do you want to avoid the potential pain or endure it and pursue the opportunity?
Leadership expert MaxDe Pree uses the phrase “the gift of change.” What a great way to look at it. Unfortunately, most people don’t see change as a gift. But it is. Every time you embrace change, there is an opportunity for you to go in a positive direction, make improvements to yourself, abandon old negative habits and ways of thinking. Change allows you to examine your assumptions, rethink your strategies, and build your relationships. Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or improvement. If you are willing and able to initiate change, you will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable to everyone in life.
4. MOST PEOPLE WON’T PAY THE IMMEDIATE PRICE TO CHANGE AND END UP PAYING THE ULTIMATE PRICE FOR NOT CHANGING.
Change isn’t just messy. It’s costly – it demands our time, our resources, our comfort – and often, more than anything, our desire. If we have a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, we must forego that extra hour of sleep to go to the gym, or that treat in favor of something satiating and healthy. What we want now must sit on the altar of what we want to become later. And change keeps costing us until it becomes our new habit.
But the process begins with the first payment. That first payment starts the growth process. If that first price remains unpaid, there is no growth or learning. And what will that cost you in the end? You lose potential and gain regret. In fact, most of our regrets will not be a result of what we did. They will come because of what we could and should have done but didn’t do. The final price we pay is called missed opportunity, and that is a heavy cost.
5. MOST PEOPLE CHANGE ONLY WHEN PROMPTED BY ONE OF THREE THINGS.
In the end, because people are so resistant to it, change occurs only under certain conditions. In my experience, people change when:
- They hurt enough that they have to
- They learn enough that they want to
- They receive enough that they are able to
Unless one of those things happens, people don’t change. Sometimes people require all three to happen before they are willing to change – and there’s no way to put these into a day on the calendar.
SO, HOW DOES ANY REAL CHANGE HAPPEN?
Change that brings real results can only happen over time – but it can begin with small, measured steps. If you have something you want to accomplish in the new year, study the process that all real, long-lasting change has in common:
- New information is accepted. The process generally doesn’t begin until some kind of information is learned and accepted. This changes people’s perspective so that they experience a new way of seeing things.
- A new attitude is adopted. When a person’s perspective is challenged and then changed, there is almost always an emotional reaction. This is a critical time. If the person’s attitude is good, the person can move to the next phase. If not, they may struggle to get over the hump.
- New behavior is practiced. When people believe something and feel good about it, they start to behave differently. They begin to make different choices, take action, and develop new habits.
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This blog post has been adapted from Dr. John Maxwell’s personal development resource, Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn. John Maxwell has been one of the world’s foremost personal and professional leadership experts for more than 40 years, and this guidebook for personal growth teaches you how to use everything – even losses – to your advantage. You can get your own copy of this resource here.