How to keep a New Year's Resolution

For many, the flipping the calendar to a new year marks the perfect time to make resolutions -- new habits to pick up, old ones to get rid of, and goals for a different way of being. Often these resolutions don't last.

Understanding the Stages of Change may provide insight to why we make resolutions and find they're so difficult to keep. 

Developed to assist clinicians in understanding why it's so difficult for their clients to break addictions, this model is helpful in assessing how motivated we are to make changes.

The first stage, pre-contemplation, occurs before the individual has recognized or acknowledged a problem. It can be active resistance where someone adamantly denies a problem or passive/ignorant, where the thought there's a problem hasn't even crossed his or her mind.

Contemplation, the second step, happens when individuals start to recognize there's a problem. Now they're talking about the "issue;" however, they're still on the fence as to whether or not to do anything. This ambivalence is the heart of motivation -- often people can come up with reasons why their habits should change but don't make the decision to.

Preparation is the third stage. The decision's been made: something has to change and in the preparation stage, individuals start planning how to carry out the change. This looks like signing up for a gym membership for those who want to lose weight. Or the decision to stop purchasing alcohol to have in the home for someone whose cutting back on their drinking. Preparation is all about how the habit will change and the most successful contemplate all barriers to success in this stage.

Finally, in the action stage, something is happening. The plan has been initiated! This looks like actually going for those runs you said you would, or cooking at home instead of spending your money eating out. Making a public commitment to the change by telling someone about your desire to change may increase your success rate, as having an external monitor is a good source of motivation. The action stage should last for months, anywhere from three to six, to really take hold.

Maintenance is the stage of a successfully changed behavior. You're going to the gym everyday now! You've kept the 20 pounds off! Or you've curbed your spending habit and have slowly started adding to your savings account. In this stage, the changed habit has taken hold and you're putting into place all the things you wanted to do.

From here, the Stages of Change diverts. Those who've successfully changed their habits depart the stages wheel into stable behavior, where your new habit has taken hold and your lifestyle is now different because of it.

However, most of us can probably relate to the relapse stage, where the behavior changes from your action plan didn't take hold and you're back to the beginning. After a relapse, finding the motivation to make changes can be incredibly difficult.

Why does relapse happen? How do we get so far into the stages of change and allow everything to fall apart? 

Unrealistic goals and expectations. Have you ever heard someone say, "If only I'd lose the weight. I'd be so happy." Weight loss doesn't mean automatic, or sustained, happiness. Curbing your expectations on how improved your life after the habit change may help you keep the motivation to change your habits. In the same way, managing your expectations about what will get in the way of healthy habits is also important. 

Moving through the stages too quickly. You've made the decision to make a change and jumped straight into implementing your action plan. Suddenly you've backslide and you're right to where you started. There's something to be said for taking your time, and giving yourself room to consider what might stand in the way of reaching your goal may help you eliminate those barriers.

If you're making a resolution for 2016, start thinking about what you'd like to change and how the stages of change are impacting your thinking. Developing a mindful awareness to your thoughts/feelings/emotions may help you're ability to keep a resolution.