Small change can go a long way

It certainly does feel as though the end is nigh: and I’m not just talking about the joke that became the Copenhagen conference. It’s truly ironic how so many people can contribute to making nothing happen and create a carbon footprint bigger than Bigfootwhile doing it. As a species we really do find change very difficult. We are good at managing change and adapting when it happens but deliberately moving out of our comfort zone is another story. You will have heard the one, “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb must want to change!” (An oldie but a goodie but very true when it comes to doing something different and challenging ourselves.) In my now previous life as a therapist, I often met people who didn’t really want to change even though their lives were very unhappy.

No, the end I am talking about is the end of the year. The worker bees have been dragging their feet, looking tired and haggard lately. It has been a big, long year what with the Global Financial Crisis and the injury to Ricky Ponting’s arm in the third Test. But now that the final hurdles are in sight, emptying the last of the in-tray into the wastepaper bin, surviving the work Christmas party without telling the boss what we think of her in a moment of drunken madness, and doing the last minute Christmas shopping, there is a little smile on the face in between grimaces.

So, the end of an old year is in sight and a new one is about to begin: a new start to a brave new world. That’s a nice thought but after seeing quite a few new starts I can’t say I am particularly optimistic, but I remain hopeful. Did you know that hope is now officially a personality trait? There’s a small number of personality traits that we can observe consistently among people and on which people differ in interesting ways. It now seems that people can be placed on a scale of hopefulness anywhere between being very hopeful to not being hopeful at all. And being hopeful is apparently good for you by increasing motivation and positive emotions. No doubt when the big retailers find out you’ll be able to buy it in bottles for $39.99. I must do something about my cynical self: maybe send him on holiday to Afghanistan or somewhere!

The New Year then is a time for hope and renewal, and the time for the traditional New Year’s resolution. Sadly, the success rate for New Year’s resolutions is about the same as the Copenhagen conference.

But you can increase your success by:

Being very hopeful and optimistic, which increases your motivation – sincerely believe you will succeed.

Have a plan that includes working slowly (rather than cold turkey) towards a goal, with little successes along the way – you might put your schedule of activities on a calendar on the fridge too.

Make sure you really do want to change and not for some reason that you really don’t believe in (someone else wants you to do it).

Remind yourself why you are making the change especially when you think about copping out – you need to make that little voice inside your head that wants to change very strong and loud to make sure you stick to your plan.

Tell others about your change and get the closest person to you to keep motivating you; and try again if you slip up and don’t get discouraged.

Happy New Year everyone.

Dr Stewart Hase is an Adjunct Fellow with Southern Cross University and a consultant psychologist.

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