Every new year’s eve many of us embark on an exciting year of change wanting to accomplish new goals as we desire to live our lives to the fullest. Common goals are losing weight, quitting smoking, saving money and falling in love amongst others. You may even find that you have the same goal every year and wonder what holds you back from being successful. Engaging in lasting behavioural change requires you to increase your awareness on underlying reasons for why you behave the way you do.
Why is it so Hard to Change?
When making a new years resolution you must do more than having a clear and attainable goal. For instance, think of the last time you wanted to lose weight. You may have had very clear plans for changing negative habits that were causing you to maintain excess weight but were unaware of the underlying reasons that were keeping it on. Have you ever gone on a diet? Have you ever lost weight on a diet? Have you ever gained the weight back? In asking these questions most of us can answer yes to each one. You have most likely been unsuccessful at reaching your goal because you have only addressed behavioural problems and have not addressed your mindset.
If you are unable to sustain long-term behavioural change by addressing your behaviour directly, it is almost always because those behaviours are serving some other very important purpose. This purpose serves as a way of protecting yourself. For instance, using the weight loss example, if your goal is to lose weight and you have been unsuccessful at sustaining behavioural change you may be unaware of a more powerful unconscious goal. For example, your behaviour may reflect your need to avoid feeling deprived. A goal such as this in combination with weight loss holds you back from successfully sustaining healthy weight loss due to your perception of self-deprivation. You may even go as far as to adapt behaviour such as overeating and not exercising enough in order to keep yourself from feeling deprived. When you are unable to sustain a healthy attainable goal it is usually because there is another unconscious driving behaviour. As you have another goal that you are trying to accomplish at the same time that you are trying to accomplish the initial goal of losing weight. Thus, the behaviour you had intended to change remains the same.
You may ask then, how can I be successful at sustaining change? The most important thing is to increase your self-awareness on what is motivating/driving your behaviours. You must identify your core beliefs that lead you to protect yourself from achieving your goal.
How to Set a New Year’s Resolution
According to Harvard professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey there are two types of goals that people can make, technical goals and adaptive goals. Technical goals are something that you develop, it is a skill. These types of goals are much more behavioural, sequential and logical. A technical type goal is ideal for a new year’s resolution goal as it is something you can engage in immediately without making core changes. Whereas an adaptive goal requires a core belief to be altered.
For instance, for some people losing weight is a technical goal as they learn how to engage in healthy eating habits with efficient caloric intake and are able to say no in situations they can predict they are going to overeat while maintaining a healthy exercise regime. But for the vast majority of people, losing weight is an adaptive goal and they will need to examine what other things that are going on inside of them.
If you are unsure if it is a technical goal or an adaptive goal, try the goal and if you find yourself unable to succeed, slipping back into default behaviour, then it is a fairly big sign indicating that it is an adaptive goal and you have to approach it differently.