Change is challenging
You are not alone if you’ve struggled to maintain your commitment to a personal goal.
Picture this: It is the start of a fresh chapter (new year, new move, new job) when you decide to introduce changes and enhancements to your life. But your journey to change has hit a roadblock, and your initial motivation has waned. Don’t be disheartened or hard on yourself. Implementing change can be challenging. But with enough perseverance and the right mindset, you can still give it another shot.
Here, we unpack the complexity of change, why it isn’t easy, and what you can do to get back on track.
Understanding the complexity of change
We are creatures of habit
We are most comfortable living in a world of routine behaviour. We may take the shortest path to do something, and by doing it repeatedly, it starts to become routine. We often do these things without thinking about it too much.
Our emotions and environment hold us back
Our thoughts, emotions, and surroundings can act as roadblocks to change. We may also have a fear of failure or feel anxious, so we do not try hard to make the change.
We underestimate the process
We underestimate the time and effort needed to make long-term behaviour change. This can lead to frustration and discouragement, especially when setbacks occur. Typically, the change process can be broken down into the following stages:
- Contemplation – Acknowledging the need for change.
- Preparation – Start preparing for the change.
- Action – Implementing the change.
- Maintenance – Safeguarding against relapse.
Behavioural change occurs gradually over time and rarely follows a linear path. A simple progression through the above stages is not the norm. We tend to move back and forth through each stage, recycling through them until the change becomes fully established.
Remember, it is a marathon, not a sprint.
Tips to help you make that change
“I want to get fitter” or “I’m going to get healthier” are reasonable goals, but they are not specific. If your goal is too vague, it may feel too overwhelming. A goal that isn’t defined can feel out of reach, and it is harder to measure your progress against a vague goal.
To get back on track: Make your goal more specific. Instead of “I’m going to get healthier”, figure out what that will involve and set a more specific goal. For example, “I will add vegetables to my dinner three times a week.”
Here are some other examples:
- “I want to be more mindful” becomes, “By the end of next month, I want to be able to dedicate three minutes a day to mindful breathing.”
- “I’m going to start exercising” becomes, “I’m going to start walking twice a week after work for 20 minutes.”
- “I will spend less money” becomes, “I will prepare and pack my lunch for work three times a week.”
If your goal is not realistic, the change is unlikely to happen. One example is going to the gym. You want to go to the gym four times a week, but right now, you don’t go at all, so you are more likely to give up. Change is sustainable if our expectations are realistic.
To get back on track: Readjust your goals if they are too steep. Instead of immediately going to the gym four times a week, go once or twice a week and build it up over time. Don’t try to push yourself to your absolute limit from the very beginning. Instead, start gradually. Not only will it be easier to stick to a realistically attainable goal — a tougher goal (like going four times a week) will be easier to achieve once you’re halfway there.
You intend to do more exercise, save money, read more books, watch less TV, spend less time glued to social media, drink less alcohol, keep your home clean, cook more…
These are all worthy goals, and they are attainable. But each one requires your attention, motivation, and time. Trying to change too many things simultaneously can be difficult and tiring. Having too many goals on your plate can also be overwhelming and discouraging.
To get back on track: Instead of tackling everything all at once, pick one or two things you want to change. When those things become routine, you can move on to something new.
Break it down
Even when you have a specific goal, life might get in the way. You may want to pack your lunch for work, but in the morning, you realise you don’t have any suitable ingredients, you are rushing around and have to drop the kids to school, so you buy your lunch once again.
To get back on track: Break down your goal into bite-sized smaller chunks. “I will prepare and pack my lunch three times a week to save money”, can be broken down into:
- “I will find easy-to-prepare recipes for lunch.”
- “I will add these ingredients to my weekly shop.”
- “I will prepare as much as possible the night before.”
Failing is part of the process
Missteps happen. Maybe you skipped that veggie lunch or stayed glued to the TV. Learn to see failing as a step, not as the end of the process or an excuse to stop trying. Failing reveals more about what deserves your attention and energy the next time.
To get back on track: Plan what you will do if you falter or slip back into old habits. What steps will you take to keep your change on track? Be prepared and go easy on yourself so you can get back up, dust yourself off, and move forward.
Remember that the longer you stick with your change goal, the more likely it will become a regular part of everyday life. And the more you do something, the easier it gets.
Lasting change takes time and dedication. Be patient, acknowledge your victories (big and small), and most importantly, be kind to yourself.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed give our SuicideLine Victoria team a call anytime of the day 1300 651 251. For online counselling, click on the floating chat button on the right. SuicideLine Victoria is a free service, and our counsellors are here 24/7.
If it is an emergency, call 000.