2 Mar 2017

Why Small Shifts Create Sustainable Change.


We are 2 months in to the New Year and research predicts that only 8% of the resolutions made in the heady optimism of Hogmanay will have been kept. Have you made the changes you committed to this year?

Let’s take a quick inventory of the key areas of your life in this (relatively) new year. Give each area a score out of 10, 10 being optimal and 0 being hideously awful.

Finances –

Fun and recreation-




Family and friends-

Personal Development (give yourself some credit for reading this far!)-

Physical environment-

Did you resolve to take action on any of the areas where the scores are low? If so, how is that going for you?

What I’m really interested in is your ‘habit score’ – the extent to which you’ve ritualised the new habits that will get you to your goal. That’s the tough bit. For instance, if you’ve been getting up every other morning at 6am to go for a run, that’s a 10; if you gave up on that routine in January, that deserves a score much closer to ‘1’. If you want to spice up your romantic relationship and promised your partner a weekly date night, but you just haven’t got around to booking the babysitter and selecting your his/her favourite restaurant, then that deserves a very low score.

If your ‘habit score’ is less than seven out of ten, then let’s look at your top 3 reasons (excuses) for not making it happen. Perhaps you’ve had to work late a lot in the last few weeks, and haven’t got to the gym as often as you’d have liked, or maybe you’ve been meaning to make a positive plan for your future career, but haven’t quite found the right moment. These are excuses, not reasons. Whereas if you’ve been diagnosed with a serious health condition that means you can’t go for that morning run, that’s a reason, and not something you can control or influence right now.

The paradox of behaviour change is that ‘radical’ shifts are less likely to deliver a sustained change in your life than small, manageable shifts that don’t require a major adaptation to your existing routine.

If you want to get fitter, choose a shift in your routine that is relatively easy to accommodate. Once you’ve made that first shift, you can ‘up your game’. If you want to change career, set a modest first step that you takes you in the right direction. If you want more romance in your relationship, go for a monthly date night or a weekly night at home (without the kids – and that still needs advance planning!)

I call these ‘one degree’ shifts because whilst they are minor, they have a virtuous ripple effect. Just as a ship might change course by one degree today, that shift could enable it to reach a different continent in a month.

If you’re disappointed that you didn’t stick to the resolutions you made after a couple of glasses of champagne and a rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, be compassionate with yourself. It’s likely your shifts were way too optimistic. Choose one small shift that you are prepared to commit to for the next 6 weeks, and stick to it. Keep your focus on it. Don’t make any excuses. If you fall off the horse, get right back on. Notice how much easier the new behaviour becomes in as little as 4 weeks. Once that habit is ritualised, move on to the next one.