As you look forward to a new year and the hope that it brings, especially after a year which brought with it so much pain and uncertainty, you may be jotting down New Year’s resolutions.
After all, what could be more motivating than wanting a better year than 2020?
And you might be exactly right. Perhaps whatever process you went through in the last year will help you see more clearly, figure out what’s most important in your life so you can prioritize those very things, or make caring for yourself more a part of your everyday.
Yet there are four things that will help make that kind of change more probable than not. I’ve learned these things as I’ve watched many people desire change, identify what they need to do to change – and then relapse into old behaviors – feeling worse than they did before they started.
So what are these five things?
Five steps to set up the chance of successful change.
First, accept don’t deny.
Why do you need to accept yourself exactly as you are if your goal is to change? That seems contradictory. So.. consider the fact that acceptance means identifying that a problem is a problem. It’s denial that keeps people stuck. And so nothing happens, day after day, month after month, year after year.
The first step is to honestly and as objectively as possible assess and accept yourself, just the way you are. Note your strengths. And note your vulnerabilities. From that stance, you can begin to chisel away at change.
Second, be compassionate with yourself — don’t add shame to the mix.
So you’ve accepted you have a problem. You have looked at it squarely in the eye and decided to do something about it. Congratulate yourself on taking those steps while reminding yourself that changing behaviors and maintaining those changes is no walk in the park. It’s going to take time, effort, and understanding when old habits want to creep back in.
This seems simple but folks get acceptance confused with resignation, “No! I can’t accept it. I want to change it. I HAVE to change it. I want it gone!”
Many of the things you want to change about yourself are things you hate about yourself or your actions. But shame isn’t your friend here. If you hate yourself for the problem (which is shame), it actually lends that problem more power. You feel you’ve been too weak. Or you’ve procrastinated. Or you’ve justified your inaction. Or you’ve been afraid of change.
All of those things make you human.
Third, take responsibility and make a plan that begins with small steps.
You need to accept responsibility for your part of the issue so that you can begin to work on your part. This may mean working with the confines of your situation as it’s currently structured. And this usually translates into taking very small steps that will lead you in the direction of where you want to go.
But you may say, “Well, there’s nothing I can do until x,y, or z happens.” Nope. There are changes, however tiny, you can make today. If you truly take responsibility.
And if you do it in these small steps and treat yourself compassionately, then those fears or justifications will be all the easier to work with.
Fourth, realize courage isn’t a lack of fear.
It takes courage to change. And courage isn’t the lack of fear, whether that fear has to do with failing, or even succeeding at change.
Courage is keeping on going despite being afraid. And you can find yours. Remind yourself when you’ve discovered your courage before in your life. It may have been in your childhood. It may have been in 2020. Or take a moment to consider when you’ve seen others that you admire have to find theirs, simply to go on.
Fifth, emulate those heroes.
So now, as you’ve remembered those heroes or heroines, learn from them. Write about what they did or said or tried. Figure out and remember what you learned from their lives. Or are learning. Create a mantra for yourself – something that you can silently say every day that will help you remember – and create the change you want.
Allow them to soothe, to comfort and to guide. Because you’re not on this journey alone. And you can find your own courage to become someone else’s hero.
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Post originally published on December 30, 2017 and then republished on December 27, 2019 and December 26, 2020.