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Continuing the New Year

There is no sin punished more implacably by nature than the sin of resistance to change. ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

How is that Big Change of yours going? I sincerely hope it is going well and that you’re well on your way to new and wonderful things. If in case you’re not, I thought it would be nice to review where you’re at and how to move forward.

For a quick moment, let me tell you about the chocolate chip cookie and radish experiment. In 1996, Roy Baumeister and his colleagues at Case Western Reserve University conducted an experiment which was really designed to look at resolve. One might call this an ‘evil’ experiment because it involved trooping in a group of university students to a room which smelled wonderful as there were fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and other chocolate goodies inside. Some of the students were allowed to eat the good stuff and other students were instructed to eat radishes (and no, they weren’t roasted radishes or in a salad but straight up radishes!) In the second half of the study the students were all given a math puzzle, designed to be unsolvable, to complete. The results were pretty clear. The students who were allowed to eat the cookies spent more time and tried harder to solve the puzzle while the radish eaters gave up even attempting to solve the puzzle in about half the time as the cookie eaters.

Here’s what we learn from this, “In the psychology world, the key finding of this seemingly silly study was a breakthrough: self-control is a general strength that’s used across different sorts of tasks — and it could be depleted. This proved that self-regulation is not a skill to be mastered or a rote function that can be performed with little consequence. It’s like using a muscle: After exercising it, it loses its strength, gets fatigued, and becomes ineffectual, at least in the short-term.” (The Atlantic, April 9, 2012)

Now, let’s circle back to your New Year’s goals. Have you wiped out your willpower (resolve)? Do you find that in resisting one thing you’re losing your self control in other areas? You are most certainly not alone. This is what makes the recommendation to take things slowly so helpful; you’re not looking to change too many things at once and therefore are not as likely to push your willpower further than it can go. I see this all the time – clients who tell me they want to start exercising, stop smoking and start eating healthy food all at once. Oh, and let’s not forget that they don’t really like veggies or fruit but hey, they want to eat healthy so that’s what it takes, right?! Yikes! That’s a whole lot of change all at once!

If we go back to January’s suggestions of looking at what you’ve done in the past that’s worked, how you managed to do that and coming up with a plan for right now before re-assessing after a week or so, we can now add to the list, “where did you perhaps push yourself a little too far?” Did you set yourself up by attending an advanced workout class because that’s where you’d like to be and now find yourself too sore to go back to the gym? Did you tell yourself that this year you’d like to be more careful about your spending and then go into an expensive store, “just to look”?

Whatever your goals are for this year ahead if they involve major changes it might be wise to make sure you limit your exposure to previously tempting treats/situations, set realistic goals for where you are now with an eye toward the future, and when you find yourself at the end of your resolve to stick to your new way of doing things get away from the stress of old habits/locations!

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