As we enter a New Year, we’re often filled with hope about making positive changes in our lives. We tell ourselves, “This is my year!” and “Finally, I’m going to make this stick!” We start our year strong with an urgency and intensity as we jump into our new fitness programs, meal plan strategies, and tracking systems. However, research shows that by Valentine’s Day 80% of us have abandoned our programs and are back at square one, waiting for another time to “start fresh.”
We may have catapulted ourselves into behavioral change without fully exploring our ambivalence around making this change, and the implications the change will have in our lives. We may be pressing full steam ahead with blinders on, telling ourselves that the power of will alone will push us through difficult times. However, when these difficulties arise, we tend to lose sight of why we started in the first place.
We can increase our likelihood of actually making this year different by exploring all of the angles of why change is important to us, as well as becoming honest about the difficulties we are likely to face in our journey. We can utilize a Decisional Balance to organize our thoughts and to refresh our motivation when we find it difficult to stick to our wellness programs as the novelty of the New Year wanes.
A decisional balance is a pros and cons matrix that explores both changing a behavior and maintaining current behavior. This system helps us fully explore our ambivalence around change, as well as allows us to anticipate barriers for change and begin planning strategies to overcome these obstacles.
The first question to ask yourself is: “What are the pros of NOT changing my behavior?” We may have never paused to ask ourselves why it is that we maintain certain behaviors. Perhaps it is easier to stay at the status quo, it’s one less thing to think about or plan for. How does the ease of not changing measure up against the value that comes from changing?
Next, ask yourself “What are the cons of NOT changing my behavior?” This question might have you thinking of the long-term effects that are easy to put on the back burner. However, when we write these out on paper, it helps us examine the realities we may face in the not-so-distant future. Comparing the difficulty of making some small changes to our health behaviors versus the difficulty of managing chronic disease helps us be honest with ourselves. As Bob Wright says, we have to “pick our hard.”
As you continue through the matrix, ask yourself “What are the cons of changing my behavior?” Maybe you are asking yourself, “What could possibly be negative about taking steps to promote my health?” This step helps us to acknowledge that we may have to put in some extra work up front to set ourselves up for success. Maybe there is a financial investment involved in joining a health club, or we have to talk to our friends about how we might need to modify some of our social outings to promote better health. If we know what we are up against, we can better brainstorm strategies to overcome these initial barriers.
Finally, answer “What are the pros of changing my behavior?” Examine both short and long-term. This may be a long list including enhancements to your overall quality of life, regaining mobility, increasing independence, feeling more energetic, reducing the amount of medications required, and being a more active participant in family activities.
Once your decisional balance is completed, reflect not only on the number of pros and cons for each category but on the value of each pro versus each con. You may be surprised to find that the pros carry more weight and offer long-term payoffs compared to the temporary nature of many of the cons. It is helpful to visualize the cons as hurdles to clear along the path to improved wellness.
Keep your decisional balance on your refrigerator or another place where you can refer to it often. Reviewing the matrix will assist you in remembering your motivation for change and increase the likelihood of carrying your New Year’s Resolutions all the way into the following year.