A friend recently told me that he spends December in an introverted, selfish state so that he can evaluate the past year and set four major goals for the upcoming year. Not “resolutions”; “goals”. He apologized for seeming to ignore his friends and hoped that we didn’t take it personally. I did take it personally, but not in the way that he thought. I “took” it personally so that I could apply it to myself.
What is it about a new year that remotivates, reenergizes, and renews our overall belief in ourselves? Is it the ending of a stressful time? (Which seems to begin when holiday decorations start popping up around Halloween). Is it the time we take off that forces us to look at the overwhelming clutter of our homes, lives, and minds? Does it really matter what it is that makes us set goals as long as we send positive intention out into the world?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t really care what it is. I love when the calendar flips over to a new year. It’s a similar feeling to finishing a book and starting a new one; erasing an etch-a-sketch; cleaning out your refrigerator… the cathartic release of the old with the replenishing of the new and invigorating. It’s the time of year when people embrace “change”
rather than run from it.
Change in the form of resolutions, however, have the stereotype of being shortlived. That’s why I love the concept of reflecting on the past year’s accomplishments and setting goals rather than resolutions. It is time to use resolve to complete personal goals versus trying to “keep” a resolution. For example, health being the most common focus of resolutions, resolve to complete a triathlon versus setting the general goal of being more active. The general nature of the latter leaves room for failure while the specificity of the former creates a proactive environment for success.
Take a look at the Transtheoretical Model of the Stages of Change:
The six stages of the model are:
While this model is typically used with issues of emotional struggle, I think it can be applied to how we behave around the ending of a year, the beginning of a new one, and the goals of growth we set for ourselves. For change or transformation to happen, we have to be ready to embrace it.
Let’s use the above example of improved health and wellness:
● Precontemplation stage
○ It’s Halloween and there are holiday decorations in the stores. There are parties, school/work breaks, and our “normal” routine is being disrupted. We don’t even think there’s a problem that we have stopped working out and our daily food intake includes a lot of chocolate. Maybe we don’t notice. Or, maybe, we weren’t working out to begin with since our last New Year’s resolution ended in February so why start now.
● Contemplation stage
○ We’re on the fence about our health. We can try to acknowledge the damage of Thanksgiving and holiday feasts or we can just give in to the season as a whole. Contemplating our health is not a commitment at this point; it’s a consideration of what could be. We often make a pros and cons list of risk versus reward during this stage.
● Determination stage
○ We’ve analyzed our pros and cons list, we’ve recognized that we’re not where we
want to be, and we’ve decided to make a change. We can see change in our
future with the oncoming of a new year, a return to routine, and an opportunity to
make a plan.
● Action stage
○ We implement a plan. The best plans are specific, simple, and goal oriented with
a path to a certain end. Goal, not a resolution. Once the decision has been
made in the determination stage, the action stage is easy to commit to (especially
when nurtured by a new year). It’s the next stage that is the hardest.
● Maintenance stage
○ It takes 21 days to make or break a habit. Change takes about 3 to 6 months to
become a pattern of our behavior rather than a task. Maintaining a lifestyle
change takes perseverance, acknowledging the positive aspects, and
recognizing the overall benefits. It takes patience. It takes gratitude. And it takes
being okay with bumps in the road, nonjudgmentally
● Termination stage
○ Termination can take on two meanings: the specific goal has been met or
maintenance has become reality and been fully implemented into the self.
Believe in yourself and practice selfforgiveness.
Start that new book; begin your next sketch;
pack your fridge with the next trend of healthy, sugarfree
food (and be okay when you throw it
out and eat pizza).
Acknowledge that the new year motivates us to send positive intention out
into the world and accept that nudge with open arms. Embrace your change.