How to Make a Change That Sticks


We’ve all been there. A new year begins, and you make that big New Year’s resolution of yours – say, to start going to a gym. Everything goes great for the first few weeks, and you feel really proud for yourself. The mere thought of having instituted this change in your life makes you smile. You tell friends about it. In fact, you feel so elevated that it’s almost surprising how easy the change was.

Then, something urgent comes up and you skip the gym once. “No big deal,” you think to yourself, “I’ll make up for it. Then again, my going to the gym is a done deal by now, what could possibly happen?” Then you skip once again, and again, until you’re back to square one.

Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times. – Mark Twain

Indeed, it’s easy to bring a change in your life. What’s hard is to make it stick. And here, I have a piece of advice that has helped me a lot throughout the years.

The advice is this:

After making a life change, avoid dwelling on it as much as possible.

Don’t be carrying your new way of life like a big flashy banner in your mind. Don’t be mentally patting your back for it or telling friends about your new positive habit. The more you do any of this, the smaller the chance that the change is here for a long haul.

It works, even though I don’t have a precise explanation why. That said, I do have a few ideas.

The Satisfaction of Advance Praise Undermines Your Motivation

In one psychology study, researches found out that announcing your goal to others may actually decrease your chances of achieving it. The praise and attitude change that you receive after the announcement are similar to those you’d have received if you actually achieved the goal, which undermines your motivation to work on the real thing.

I think that this applies to praising yourself just as much. Let your satisfaction come from the positive consequences of your life change, not from patting yourself on the back for merely initiating it.

Dwelling on a Change Inevitably Brings Up the Old Ways You’re Changing

We should not concentrate upon the undesirable feeling, even to the extent of driving it out. – Dr. Maxwell Maltz

To every positive change, there’s a flip side of an undesirable habit or a way of doing things that you are trying to fix. The flip side to going to a gym is the couch potato lifestyle. The flip side to saving more money is being a spendthrift. And so on.

Now, the funny thing about habits is that the more you concentrate on eradicating one, the more you bring it up in your mind and the more ingrained it becomes. In Psycho-Cybernetics terms, the bad habit becomes a “goal image” shown to your mind over and over.

You want to avoid that as much as possible, and the way to do it is not to overly dwell on the bad habit you’re trying to fix. Inevitably, this also means not dwelling on the new way of doing things you’re starting.

Save Your Enthusiasm for Later

Embarking on a change is often easy. The mere excitement of finally doing things differently is enough to get you going. The challenge begins later, when the excitement wears off and the risk of slipping increases.

Your drive and enthusiasm may not be material qualities to conserve and set aside for later use. But could it be that not thinking too much about your new life change helps you achieve just that? What if, by not dispensing all of your excitement in the beginning, you get the strength to carry on with that gym when the going gets really tough?

As I said, I really don’t know. But I do know that the less you think about your new life change, the more the chance of it sticking, and that’s really more than enough for me.

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