Given that the start of each New Year brings with it a symbolic “new beginning” for many, this can be a wonderful time of self-assessment, introspection, goal-setting, and change-making.
Today is January 10th- That means that 10 days ago you probably made some new year’s resolutions (and if you’re anything like me), may have already broken one of them (sorry caffeine, you were NEEDED today)… My question to all of you is, WHY is it so difficult to change? And what are some quick things we can do to help our resolutions stick?
How can we eat better, exercise more, include more spirituality in our daily routines, (and yes of course you know I’m going there -->), or SLEEP BETTER this year? Many of us feel extra motivated to make some changes after a long holiday break of over-indulging in whatever it was we over-indulged in (over-eating, over-sleeping, over-drinking, over-family,ing?)… Whatever it is we set out to do in 2017, let’s get in the right mindset to actually DO it.
They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit… But it turns out that that’s not exactly true. Sources claim that “they” was actually a surgeon who conducted a study in the 1950’s about behavior change and published it in the 1960’s. I’ll be paraphrasing here, but apparently upon releasing his results to the public, a lengthy game of “telephone” ensued for the next few decades re: his results, and this “21 day to change” myth was adopted by some of the leading “self-help” social scientists of the times. And it turns out, that if you say something, write something, and proclaim something enough times, the public will begin to believe it’s true- thus the 21 day myth of behavior change was born.
To be fair, what this surgeon from 1950 actually said was that it takes a MINIMUM of 21 days to change, and it seems the “minimum” part was what got lost along the way during the decade-long game of telephone. It appears, from a much more recent and thorough study, that he wasn’t too far off on this minimum number, and that the true range of “days” it takes to change a behavior is anywhere from 18 to 254 days (with an average of 66 days- the link to that study is here).
Now, as a clinical psychologist, and dare I say researcher myself, I see lots of what are called “confounding variables” in this equation and calculation of “how long it takes to change”- things like how motivated a person is to change, their actual ability to make the changes, how many tools/skills they have at their disposal, how much support they have from others in making that change, how accountable they are, how many other stressors they have going on, etc., etc. All of this information can actually be really important and helpful when considering making a change, and each persons’ individual differences in these (and other areas) will be the difference in whether that change happens in 18 or 254 days (or at all).
Here are four simple steps to set you up for successful change in 2017:
1) Get clear about what you want to change- set a Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely goal (and if you’re on top of your game you just realized that there is an acronym there, and yes, it’s a SMART goal) For example: “I want to be able to fall asleep faster than I do now (> 45 minutes) so that I can get to bed earlier, wake up feeling more rested, and become a super-charged boss at my day-job. I want to be able to work on this for the next 1-6 weeks starting in January.”
2) Assess how much you WANT to make the change- Use a 1-10 likert rating scale (10 is the most ever, 1 is the least ever) to quantify how much you WANT this change
3) Next, be honest with yourself about how CONFIDENT you FEEL about being able to make this change. An honest assessment of this can be vital in actually being able to execute your change. As much as I may WANT to become a mermaid, I do not feel confident (unfortunately) that I’ll be able to make that change. You can also use the same 1-10 rating scale for this.
4) Once assessed,consider what you might NEED based on answers to 2 and 3.
-If it’s more motivation you need: think about the reasons this change is important to you, and the values you have.
For example, “I know I need to change my sleep because it will improve my functioning at work, and being good at my job is something I value.”
-If it’s more confidence you need: think about where you can get that from, whether it’s bolstering a skill, asking for help, or investing time or money to fill in the gaps.
For example, “I want to be able to sleep better, but I don’t know how to do so. I will look into CBT-I (cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia) with an expert so that I can learn the skills I need to make my sleep goals come true.” (To that I might say, “Wow, fake stranger-patient I just made up in my blog, that sounds REALLY WONDERFUL- you seem very smart, just like your goals”….. (get it? SMART GOALS?)). Or, if you’re one of those people who is highly motivated, and just needs a little help (e.g., the kind of person who doesn’t need a personal trainer but just can join the gym on their own), then you might want to look into some books or online programs for CBT-I.
Okay so there you have it, 4 quick steps and 2 cheesy dad-jokes later, you’re on your way to making some changes. And YES, if those changes involve being able to SLEEP BETTER this year, come and see ME in my NYC -based practice (Broadway between 21 & 22nd). The 6 week investment in the gold standard treatment for sleep; Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is going to be well worth those glorious and priceless nights of heavenly rest for the indefinite future. Cheers to making 2017 your best year yet.