With as much certainty as night follows day, most of us will have broken the bulk of our New Year resolutions by now. This phenomenon of ‘reversal’ is generally called Backsliding and the terms is often used in the context of Christianity: where a convert reverts to previous habits and beliefs. This is not new – the Hebrews kept reverting to idolatry, regularly backsliding from the ‘new’, unique God.
In psychology and change management, one often refers to the Change Cycle as originally described by Prochaska and DiClemente
when looking at cigarette smoking quitting patterns. There have been many variations and refinements over the years, but the key stages are: – Pre-contemplation (not ready to consider change) – Contemplation/preparation – Action – Maintenance/Backsliding – Termination or relapse In terms of New Year resolutions, the model therefore tells us two things: – There is no point making hollow promises until one is ready to change – Failure is built-into the model – depending how we deal with failure will dictate if we then go back to the new behaviour and eventually install it as a permanent habit (termination) or if will relapse and enter a new cycle of pre-contemplation, etc. So how do we deal with backsliding? – Three tips courtesy of White Water Strategies: 1) Changing labels changes perspective: If you smoke a cigarette by January 3rd
you have not become a smoker all over again: you are a non-smoker who happens to have puffed one ‘accidental’ cigarette. Go back to your non-smoking habit without drama. 2) Challenge your explanatory style: Taking another cigarette doesn’t mean that you are a bad person, a failure and somebody with no will-power: contextualise the action, keep it in perspective, check the surrounding circumstances (e.g. your smoking friends or links between having a beer and smoking), see what needs to be changed and move on. 3) Be aware of you temperance bucket and manage it carefully: Recent studies on temperance indicate that we all have a ‘bucket of goodwill’ at the beginning of each day fuelled by rest, optimism and pleasure in our activities. As the day goes on the bucket gets emptied by various demands. It can be further depleted by inhibition reducers like alcohol that push to the ‘what the heck’ stage. Having awareness of our bucket means that we pace our temperance demands. This goes a long way to explain that those that choose a couple of well thought-through New Year goals have a much greater chance of success than those who pray for a magical transformation of their whole life. So there you have it: don’t be fooled by labels, be wary of sweeping generalisations and don’t kick the bucket! Happy 2010! PS: don’t forget to watch our New Year message on YouTube