January timelines are filled with people announcing their intentions to quit, and I find myself thinking that’s the reason so many of us fail in resolutions while we would succeed with change. Language, as ever, plays a huge part in the messages we give ourselves and focussing on change can give us the head-start to real success if we choose our words with care.
The first day of the new decade, my morning coffee and browse of Facebook showed me that several of my friends had declared they were quitting smoking, two were giving up chocolate and several had decided this was the year they were going to lose weight and ‘finally’ (their words) go to the gym instead of simply joining it.
All of these intentions are for great reasons, and sadly a high percentage will, indeed, have given up by the end of the month, but it will be the goal and not the actual habit they have decided to quit. Most of this, will be because they have talked themselves out of it, in their own language and with their constant head-talk that they are going to fail.
How do we change this? With our choice of language about the process, the goal itself and what we are working towards. It’s vital that we focus away from the past and the repeated behaviour that has become the habit we want to change, and instead focus on what we are going to have, or feel, or be able to do, when we have made the change in our lives.
Here’s how I would start, using smoking as an example simply as I used to be a smoker and can relate to the language of ‘it’s so tough to quit smoking’ that is thrown at us everywhere:
1. You’ve decided to stop smoking, so look at the real reasons, personal to you, for doing that and write them on a blank sheet of paper (big and bold). This is for you, nobody has to see it, so get honest with yourself.
2. On the same sheet of paper, add all the benefits that you will have after you have stopped, and again make these personal to you and not simply the ones that everyone talks about; get real here – if you cared about all the evidence as to why you should stop, you’d have done it years ago. Make this real and personal or there is no point.
3. Think of three events or significant dates in the year ahead and write about why being a non-smoker on those dates is going to be important, amazing, something to be proud of. No negatives, keep it all about how good it is going to be. I remember writing one of mine, which was the anniversary of when a dear friend who I used to sing with in a choir, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, knowing how great it was going to be that I was able to sing my favourite songs at full volume with her again and that we’d both have enough breath left in our lungs to get all the words out. And when we did it, we were very proud of ourselves.
4. Look at your language. This step is critical. If you’re going to make this change, if you’re going to let the negative habit go and move on with positive belief and achieve it, you have to re-frame the language for the long-term. Instead of giving up smoking, this is the time to decide that you are changing a pattern, not giving something up; you are making a positive change that is for the better, not quitting. I decided i was building stamina, to allow me to walk further, sing louder and go swimming again. Smoking wasn’t mentioned and that was critical.
5. Shut down your head-talk and keep challenging yourself. How many times a day do you tell yourself that you’re doing brilliantly or that you’re proud of yourself? You need to do much more of this to succeed in real change. Out-talk and out-shine the negative head-talk with positives and keep doing it. You don’t have to tell anyone else, and you’re not being ‘big-headed’ so stop that negative chatter right away. Self belief and success fuel each other, so keep feeding the self-confidence and you’re more likely to make the changes stick.
I look back at the significant changes in my life, all of which have taken effort and a significant shift in language and I notice that they have all come from a place of positive head-talk, positive action and the choice to accept that a day where things don’t go according to plan is okay; it’s perfectly real and everyone will have a few of those on the path to change. The vital thing, is to allow yourself to be kind again the next day, to focus on the changes you’re making and the future they’re going to give you and to support yourself with language that acknowledges your efforts and determination.