“Stepping onto a brand-new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation, which is not nurturing.”

— Maya Angelou

How many New Year’s resolutions have you made and broken? The one to lose 10 pounds, stop smoking or run a marathon? You’ve probably made many that you didn’t follow-through with if you’re anything like me. We blame ourselves for not having willpower, when in actuality, that’s a small part of why we don’t achieve the goals we set.

The reality is that change is difficult. It’s  a process, not an event.  Our brains are hardwired to follow routines that over time become part of our neurology. Think of it this way, how often would you take a different route to work for the sake of novelty? Probably never. It’s more comfortable to follow your usual routine than change it.

Mapping out a new direction takes time and energy. Why change unless you perceive some benefit? The same is true with habits we find difficult to break. Like them or not, they’re comfortable. We know intellectually that unhealthy food isn’t good for us, but the immediate reward is hard to resist.

What to do? The answer is to create rituals that help us change over time. You see, thinking about making a change and doing it are very different. Often we think, and think and think about what we want to do, and before we know it, we’re exhausted and defeated. Daryl Bem, social psychologist and professor at Cornell University devoted his career to the theory of self-perception  – how people form attitudes about themselves Bem writes, “we derive conclusions about ourselves in the same way we derive conclusions about others.”  If I see myself taking a piece of fruit instead of cake, I start to believe in my ability to stick to a healthy diet.  If I give a presentation in front of an audience at work, not only will others see me as confident, but I will also start to see myself that way. In other words, how I behave affects my attitude, which affects how I feel about myself.

If you want to make a change, shift your focus from self discipline to rituals. In other words, just do it!

Decide on one thing you want to change in your work – a relationship with a colleague or manager, saying yes to less and delegating more, or leaving the office by 5:30. Create one ritual to help you achieve your goal and practice it daily for a month. Suggestions:

  • When asked to take on more work, come up with a response and practice saying it such as “I’d like to help you out with the Savetheworld project, but I need to look at what I have coming up in the next few days. Can I get back to your tomorrow?”
  • Write down what you appreciate or admire about your colleague and share it with him/her once a week.
  • Plan something enjoyable after work to motivate you to leave on time. This doesn’t have to be big. It can be anything from taking a walk to meeting a friend, playing with your children or cooking a nice dinner. Put a picture on your computer to remind you of what you are looking forward to.