Measure Before you Cut

Before you make any changes, find out if anything needs to change.

This is the time of year when we traditionally decide to make changes in our lives. We vow to start afresh and become a better version of ourselves. We see the beginning of a new year as the best or most natural starting point for this new departure. We decide to make a positive change to improve ourselves, we have a plan, we share our resolution and we fail. We feel guilty. We feel shame. We repeat this pattern year on year.

In approaching a problem, the rational thing to do is to assess what the problem is. Too often, we decide that there is a problem – health, career, relationships – without much logical thought and apply what we think the solution is. We also hope to do this using will-power alone. We are attempting to fix an issue we haven’t properly assessed. We don’t generally do this with other areas of our lives. Emotion can also play a negative part in this process. Too often, we diagnose the changes that need to be made from a place of shame or of guilt. These changes are bound to fail.

So. What to do?

Assess the situation. Write down what you think needs to change. How do you know it needs to change? Is there evidence? Is there a pattern in your life? Can you ask your spouse, friends, family? Where can you get objective evidence that something needs to change?

Instead of making a resolution to change in the new year, why not resolve to assess as objectively as possible your current life situation? You can do this with a coach, of course, or a close, objective friend, or you can start to gather evidence. Food logs, steps, personal diaries, honest reflection over a few weeks will help you far more than a guilt-ridden reaction to over-indulgence or general dissatisfaction with your current life situation.

Honest reflection will help you pinpoint real areas for change. Deciding to ‘be healthy’ is too general an aspiration. If, for example, on reflection, you realise you don’t drink enough water, you can record your daily intake of water and improve that habit over time. If you know you don’t exercise enough, you can set and measure a new daily habit. You can’t measure ‘be healthy’.

Another key element for success in any change you want to make is to make the change in habit small. If exercise is the new habit you want to introduce, start with a manageable half hour walk. If you conclude you don’t have the time for this, wake a half hour earlier. You can always reassess your situation in a month or so and add more to this habit. Deciding to do too much at the beginning, which we’ve all done, will lead to disappointment and a feeling of failure and shame.

If you are going to rely on willpower for these changes, you are very likely to fail. This is not a personal failing on your part. This happens to everyone. How do you counteract this?

Make your new habit easy. If you’re going to wake earlier, go to bed earlier. If you’re going to go for a walk in the morning, have everything ready the night before. If you’re going to drink more water, have your bottle to hand. If you’re going to eat healthily, have healthy food at home.

Engineer your environment for success. Make it easy to follow your new habits.

Assess. Process. Progress.

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