“If it is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you will find an excuse.”
Happy New Year! 2020 has been a rough one for a lot of people, but I know that come January 1st every year we all like to hit that reset button and begin anew! 2021 is no different, and with every new year comes new year’s resolutions, but how can you stick to your goals rather than having them fall by the wayside like so many resolutioners do? I’ve got some tips on starting a sustainable path to pursue excellence in the coming year.
It’s important to begin with the statement: excellence is a choice! Like most other things in your life, achieving excellence is ruled by the choices you make. It is about your priorities. Like stated in the above quote: if it is important you will find a way. This quote has been said so many times I actually had a hard time tracking down who said it first! Sometimes the choice of excellence is easy, but other times it is a hard one. When you are tired, rundown, really busy, or stressed out, those are the times when choosing excellence is hard but the most important. That is where you truly show your resilience and mental fortitude, when it would be easy to walk away or give up, but you choose to persist through whatever adversity you are facing and perform regardless.
By its very definition, your resolutions are “a firm decision to do or not to do something.” And you have to make those choices every day, often more than once a day! As I have been quoted saying in a prior blog post, “Greatness is not achieved by simply going after the big things and demanding perfection, but rather in consistently doing the little things right.” The metaphor that comes to mind is one of the 7 Wonders of the World: The Great Wall of China. It wasn’t built in a day. You have to build it brick by brick. You have to make the choice to be precise and lay each brick in its proper place, every brick repeatedly, day in and day out until you have your wall. The Great Wall of China spans more than 20,000 kilometers1 and has lasted for centuries because of the precise and consistent work that was put into it – a true testament to choosing excellence.
So where do you begin? First, I think it’s important to evaluate where you are in the stages of behaviour change. The stages of behaviour change (also known in psychology as the Transtheoretical Model) was developed in the 1970’s by Prochaska and DiClemente as an integrative framework for understanding how individuals progress toward adopting and maintaining health behaviour change.2 There are six stages and it is important to determine where you are right now in the model with the behaviour changes you are proposing to make for your resolutions because it assesses your readiness to act on a new healthier behaviour:
1. Pre-contemplation – Not ready to change.
- Do not intend to change their behaviour in the near future or may not be aware that they need to change their behaviour at all.
- “Pre-contemplators” typically underestimate the pros of changing and overestimate the cons, however, they are encouraged to learn more about healthy behaviour and become more mindful of their decision making around changing unhealthy behaviour.
2. Contemplation – Getting ready to change.
- Are now aware of the pros of changing their behaviour but are still ambivalent about changing due to their perceived cons of behaviour change still being present.
- These perceived cons or barriers to change can cause you to keep putting off taking action, however, you are much more susceptible to the help and encouragement of others to begin taking action here.
3. Preparation – Ready to begin making changes.
- Are now beginning to take small steps that they believe can help them make the healthy behavior a part of their lives.
- Seek support from friends you trust, tell people about your plan to change, and learn that the better prepared you are the more likely you will keep progressing.
4. Action – Currently acting on changes.
- Behaviour change has begun, but strategies need to be developed to keep moving forward, strengthen commitment to change, and fight urges to slip back into prior behaviour.
- Studies suggest it takes 21 days of consistency for behaviour change to become habitual, but taking actions to facilitate this such as rewarding yourself for taking steps toward changing, and avoiding people and situations that tempt you to behave in unhealthy ways are really important.
5. Maintenance – Monitoring behaviour change.
- Behaviour change has persisted for over 30 days but must be aware of situations that may tempt slipping back into doing unhealthy behaviors—particularly stressful situations.
- Seek support from people you trust, spend time with people who behave in healthy ways, and remember to engage in healthy activities to cope with your stress instead of relying on unhealthy behaviours.
6. Relapse – “Falling off the bandwagon”
- Important to recognize that achieving long-term behaviour change can often require ongoing support from friends, family, a coach, a physician, or another motivational source; however, you may still fall back into your prior behavioural patterns.
- Consistency is key but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, so-to-speak, if you do go off track. No one is perfect and behaviour change often takes diligence and persistence in choosing excellence.
Hopefully, you are at least in the contemplation stage if you are reading this article, but ideally you want to be in the preparation or action stages this month to truly see sustainable change take place. When it comes to your resolutions (or goals) for this coming year, remember that you have control over your choices, your priorities, and your focus. So how do you stick to those resolutions when you’ve successfully reached the preparation and action stages of the model?
1. Choose to focus on the positives in every situation,
2. Choose to focus on the opportunities (to learn, to test yourself, to grow),
3. Choose to focus on what you can control and eliminate distractions,
4. Choose to be fully engaged and present in what you are doing, and
5. Choose excellence even when it is the hard choice to make.
2 Prochaska, J. O., Johnson, S., & Lee, P. (2009). The Transtheoretical Model of behavior change. In S. A. Shumaker, J. K. Ockene, & K. A. Riekert (Eds.), The handbook of health behavior change (p. 59–83). Springer Publishing Company.