At this time of year thoughts often turn to things in our lives we would like to change, personal qualities we would like to foster, habits we would like to build. In cultures around the world the new year is thought to be a time to reflect on the past and resolve to be kinder, try harder, and make a change in the coming year.

These are excellent intentions, but they are in direct conflict with the human tendency to resist change. It may seem simple to begin exercising for 30 minutes 4 times a week; simple is not the same as easy. In order to make a change time must be carved out. New habits need to be created to overcome our very natural tendency to inertia. In order to carry through with our intentions we need a strategy.

Below are 3 approaches to help manifest change.

Temptation bundling – One clear way to motivate is to combine something we don’t want to do with something we enjoy. This is slightly different than a reward system because things are done together to create a positive association. For example – every time I go to the gym I get to read a book for pleasure or watch video, two things I enjoy but rarely have time for in my day to day life. In fact I reserve certain videos for the gym, so that it is my special treat during that time.

Another example is diet change. We can’t just eliminate all the familiar comfort food. No matter how determined we are, it is a setup for failure. The people who do best with dietary change are people who like the food on their new plan. We need to find things we really enjoy on our new diet and let ourselves have them!

Know the worth of your goal and be able to track your progress. What is the purpose of making this change? Is it a long term goal like staying healthy into your 80s. If so, you need to be convinced the goal is valuable and reachable. Vague belief is not enough to motivate. Read the research – a lot of it. Have objective ways to measure your goal like labs showing lower cholesterol or better blood sugar control.

Short term goals are easier to see. Examples of these type of goals are training for an athletic event, doing one kind thing every day for a month, or losing  a set amount of weight. These goals offer more immediate gratification, but you still have to believe in the value of your goal or your will not have the commitment to reach it.

Get support – Some people thrive when they have a buddy with a shared resolution. It is extremely helpful if at least one person in your household chooses to make a diet change along with you. The support of a group can also very valuable. This is the purpose of writer’s groups. Writing can be such a solitary activity. Having a group of people to assess your work, give feedback and support can be the difference between continuing to write and giving up.  

Even without a structured buddy system or group, the support of friends and family is vital to success. Without the positive reinforcement and the willingness to occasionally pick up the slack, making meaningful change is difficult.

Finally – Change should not be punitive or trigger deprivation. For long term success, approach the change you seek as an opportunity – a gift.