How’s the New Years resolution going? Good? Made a real change for the better? Or, like many, did you give up weeks ago? You needn’t worry. Falling off the wagon affects all of us, and after watching ‘Trust Me I’m a Doctor’, I’m relieved to say I’m not the only one with a chocolate biscuit addiction.
New year feels like a symbolic occasion when we draw a line, change our ways and move on to something new. It can be a time to renew our convictions and change behaviour, like regaining control of the food and drink intake after Christmas. For some people it’s a good time to move on to the next phase in your life, with a new job or an engagement.
We all thrive when we have dreams and aspirations to aim for and make real, so why is it so hard to see things through?
When we set out to achieve something, with a plan of action, goals and a clear set of achievable steps, we’re more likely to stay on track because feel like we’re making progress. All to often though, we set off with some vague idea of where we’re trying to get – whether that’s healthier, lighter, fitter or safer.
It’s a story familiar to everyone. We resolve to change, make some short term gains, then progress plateaus and we begin to feel disheartened, and the old habits creep back in. Some people go through life like this – continually starting things then dropping them without ever really sticking at something, and giving it a proper go.
We’re like machines when it comes to learning new things. It takes a lot of hard work to begin with, as if you’re forcing new patterns of behaviour into your brain. And if you don’t persevere you’ll never reach that point at which they become second nature.
So how good are we at helping people learn and achieve cultural goals?
When it comes to health, safety and culture change in the workplace: not that good, the evidence would suggest.
We all know we need to measure safety stats and give people targets, but when I talk to groups on the shop-floor all they hear is “work safer” and “zero incidents”. Exactly the kind of vague and unachievable sounding goals I mentioned earlier.
When they try to follow new rules or procedures that often come from above, they feel out of their comfort zone and so change and learning is much slower, and new habits don’t develop quick enough to replace the old ones.
The answer then, as with dieting and laying off the booze, is to get support from the people themselves, to make a change and stick to it.
Have clear, specific goals (like how many pounds to lose or observation rate per month) and supportive networks of friends or colleagues who are in the same boat.
Talking with one other about change always makes things easier. For some, a little competition might even be a motivator, and rewards for achieving intermediate goals are bound to go down well – especially a chocolate éclair in my case.