Now that we’re a few weeks into 2012, if you’re like most people who make New Year’s resolutions, you’re already struggling to keep them.
New Year’s is an ideal time to review my approach for making real, lasting, positive changes in your life. If you’ve read my book, you know that I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. You know how it works — gym memberships spike in January and then those same gyms’ parking lots are empty by February. Instead, I want you to embrace the fact that the only way to make real, lasting change is to slow down.
When I ask audiences, the top three New Year’s resolutions are always the same — to quit smoking, to lose weight, and to exercise more. Whether you want to do any or all of those three, or to make any other positive change in your life, the method that produces real, lasting change is to break down your goals into small pieces and then make those small changes over the course of the 21 days it takes to form a new habit.
If you want to quit smoking and are able to do so cold turkey, that’s fantastic. But very few people are able to do that. And those who quit cold turkey often find that the change doesn’t last.
Instead, try this. Figure out how many cigarettes you smoke each day. 10? 20? More? Whatever the number, cut that number by one for the next 21 days. Then cut the number by one again for the each successive 21-day period.
For example, if you currently smoke 20 cigarettes each day, reduce that number to 19 cigarettes a day for the next 21 day. Then 18, and so on. As opposed to cold turkey, a year from now you’ll still be smoking four cigarettes a day.
After three more 21-day periods, you’ll be down to one a day. If stopping completely at that point still feels like too much of a change, cut down to one every other day for 21 days. Then two a week; one a week; one every other week; one each month; etc.
My point is, take as long as you need, as long as you keep making progress. Using the method I described, you’ll be down to one cigarette per month about a year-and-a-half from now.
We’ve all heard the saying, “life is short” and that we have to “stop to smell the roses.” I agree. But I’ve also learned that life is long, that “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”, meaning we have time, that you don’t have to try to make giant changes, or a million changes all at once — which can leave you so overwhelmed that you make none.
A year-and-a-half to quit smoking? That’s a lot better than trying over and over to quit cold turkey. The years always fly by. But if you slow down to make the changes, a year from now you can look back and celebrate a year of important progress — either many small changes or well on your way to a big change, one small step at a time.
If you make one small change every 21 days, or every month, or every six weeks, you can experience many positive changes this year, and an awesome number in the years ahead. The years will go by anyway. You might as well make those changes. And you can. We all can.
Please join the conversation with your comments…
p.s. I’ve challenged my four of my friends who are smokers to reduce their smoking this year, one cigarette at a time, over 21 day periods. I’ll report on their progress later this year.