Meeting your New Year's Resolution Goals

– By Sharon Ashton and Raksha Dave-Gates (Counselling Psychologists)

As the New Year starts, most people entertain thoughts of making a change in some aspect of their lifestyle. Whether your change goal relates to physical health (e.g. increasing healthy eating and exercise) or other aspects of your life, change is not about simply making a New Year’s resolution.   It may help you gain momentum for change if you understand the process of change and identify where you are in that process right now.

The process of change typically occurs in stages.  One theory suggests that there are five stages in change: 1) Precontemplation; 2)Contemplation; 3) Preparation; 4) Action; and 5) Maintenance.  Consider your New Year’s resolution.  By recognizing that an area of your life that is not healthy, and by having some intention to change your lifestyle you have moved beyond precomtemplation to contemplation (i.e., you are moving from being unaware of the problem to thinking about what you might do differently).  Now review your resolution more closely.  Notice whether you have made concrete plans towards making the change.  The preparation stage would evident in this example if you have purchased a membership to a health club that will begin relatively soon.  If you are in the action stage, you may already have begun to modify your behaviour by making healthier food choices and by going to the gym at least one time a week.  In the action stage, you spend a significant amount of time and energy to follow through on your commitment.  Finally, in the maintenance stage, you watch that you do not slip back to only thinking about the change but rather remain consistently taking action.

Another theory of change proposes six stages and outlines thoughts, feelings, and behaviours in each stage.  The stages are: 1) Loss; 2)Doubt; 3) Discomfort; 4) Discovery; 5) Understanding; and 6) Integration.  When considering any change, despite how healthy the change may be, an initial reaction is to experience a loss of what “was”.  You may fear letting go the unhealthy but familiar behaviour.  Be careful! Fearing the unknown and unfamiliar can cause you to be paralyzed in the first step!  Overcoming this moves you to the stage of doubt where you may resent the need for change, and struggle to accept that the change is really possible or even needed.  If you can, stay focused on information that supports the need for change despite the discomfort you still have with what needs to be done.  This is a critical time as the discomfort can be significant enough to stall your change process and take you right back to stage one.  As you challenge and overcome your discomfort, you move to the next stage of discovery.  In this stage, you recognize options that are available to you and you feel more hopeful and optimistic about your ability to change.  You think more creatively as you explore the choices available to you.  Behaviourally, you are energized!  As you move to stage five, your understanding grows about the changes you are making and you identify benefits and accomplishments due to the change.  You feel more confident, think more clearly, realistically, and effectively and are more productive in your actions.  With increasing consistency, you soon realize that the power to change is within you and you integrate the change solidly into your lifestyle.