HR | Atlantic - Positive Change at Work

Are you ready for success?

Jan 11, 2012


Making New Year’s resolutions is in decline.  I know of far more people who talk of not making resolutions than those who do.  But rather than giving up on resolutions, perhaps we need to look at why we don’t think they work.  Instead of making resolutions, maybe we need to make Resolactions.

While New Year’s resolutions are often scoffed at for their low success rates, with nearly 60 percent of people dropping their resolutions by the six-month mark, those who make resolutions are still 10 times more likely to successfully change their behavior than those who do not.  And so, at the outset of another year, we can use behavioural science to help us make personal and professional resolutions to improve ourselves, our relationships with others, and our work.

Science offers some clues as to how we can succeed with these resolutions.  Psychologists have studied the factors that improve the success of behavior change.  These studies suggest two keys to improving the likelihood of success: belief that you can succeed, and taking action to make success possible.

Self-efficacy, or the belief that you can effect and maintain a change is fundamental.  This has long been understood by psychologists, and is reflected in the work of  University of Scranton’s John Norcross, PhD, University of Rhode Island’s James Prochaska, PhD and University of Maryland’s Carlo DiClemente who developed the transtheoretical model of behavior change.  This model recognizes change as a process rather than an event.  An individual desiring change must first believe that change is possible.

The process of change involves belief, readiness to change, and action to prepare for change.  Norcross found that readiness to change, or how prepared a person is to enter the action stage of behavior change, to be the single best predictor of New Year’s resolution success.  The size, complexity, or importance of the change has little to do with its success.  Similarly, thinking about change, and talking about change does little to effect a change.  So putting up pictures on the fridge, or articles on the lunch room bulletin board, or having a scale in the bathroom has a low success rate.  Instead, we need to inject action into the resolution to make it stick (which isn’t a surprise!).

So how do we prepare for change?  We need to determine how we are going to define success, and what reward success will bring.  We also need to think about how we will treat set-backs, and acknowledge that the road to success will not be smooth.

Applying these learnings to our desires to change workplace behaviours, here are some things to think about:

  • How can we set up systems to reward new desired behaviors? (We don’t reward weight loss with a brownie, or prompt attendance with a pass to reporting to work late)
  • How can we avoid situations where lapses into old behaviors are highly likely? (We don’t have coffee with friends in a donut shop or team up a weak performer with other weak performers)

In studies by University of Washington psychologist G. Alan Marlatt, PhD, it is noted that another key to changing behaviour is not to beat ourselves up for a lapse, but rather to acknowledge that changing ingrained habits is not easy and will take time; a lapse is likely, but a lapse does not mean failure.  A study of people who resolve to quit smoking indicates that people who avoid turning moments of weakness into full relapses are more likely to avoid taking up the habit again through the two-year mark.  So we don’t punish people for trying.  Instead, we encourage them to keep trying.

So, armed with this evidence-based knowledge that resolutions can be helpful, what are you doing to be ready for success?

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