Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Coaching Lessons: The Secret to Successful Change

Five days into the New Year and most of us are already regretting our broken New Year's resolutions.

All that determination, all that resolve, all that will to change and to make ourselves better... After five days, most of it has turned our to be for nought.

Some have suggested that it is better that we not make any New Year's Resolutions at all. Repeatedly trying and failing is surely bad for our self-esteem.

In fact, the opposite is true. As Sue Schellenbarger reported in the Wall Street Journal, Professor John Norcross just completed an extensive study of New Year's resolutions. Among his conclusions, as summarized by Schellenbarger: "The simple act of making a New Year's resolution sharply improves your chances of accomplishing positive change-- by a factor of 10." Link here.

The real issue is how to effect positive change in your life. And the road to positive change passes through the process of making resolutions.

If you think about changing, dream about changing, even fantasize about changing, you are far less likely to succeed unless you take the decisive step or resolving or vowing to yourself that you will do so.

It's the act of making a vow, of giving your word, that sets you on the path to change. Even if you only keep the vow for a matter of days or weeks.

Engaging yourself in the right process is the key element to personal change.

As Schellenbarger explains: "Contrary to popular belief, the secret isn't willpower, Dr. Norcross says; people who rely on hopes, wishes, or desires actually fail at a higher rate than others. Instead, the successful resolution-keepers made specific, concrete action plans to change their daily behavior."

Long time readers of this blog will note the stark comparison between two different approaches to change. The one derives from psychotherapy, and might well be labelled inside/out. The other mimics the life coaching process, and works from the outside/in.

If the issue is how to effect positive personal change, the one works while the other does not. The one involves insight, awareness, and trying to make your dreams real. The other involves action plans.

Successful change has little or nothing to do with mental gymnastics. It should be based on following the plan you make and making changes in the world around you.

People who kept their resolutions made changes in their home or work environments to facilitate the process. They offered themselves rewards for small successes. And they created support groups to help them through the change process. As always, when you effect important change in your life it is better not to go it alone.

Finally, those who were successful did not give up at the first slip-up. They had expected that they would lapse and did not allow themselves to be discouraged into abandoning their resolutions.

If you read through Schellenbarger's article you will find many salient examples of people who successfully kept their New Year's resolutions. It's worth the trip.

As a side note, I suspect that the source of the program that Dr. Norcross outlines lies in the twelve-step programs that have helped those alcoholics and addicts who follow them religiously.

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