How to Keep Resolutions and Make Changes for Good

It’s the second week of January – how are your New Year’s Resolutions going?  If you’re like most people, the outlook is not promising:  nearly a third have given up after two weeks, and more than half give up after six months, according to Statistics Brain.  Why do so many people give up?  We know it’s not for lack of motivation:  we really, truly want to lose weight, get organized, enjoy life more.  So why do we keep reverting back to old habits?  The reason may lie in our subconscious:  in his book, Know Can Do, Ken Blanchard describes how he set out to answer this question.  He learned of research done at the University of Santa Cruz back in the 1970’s that explored the link between what we tell ourselves subconsciously and how we behave.  These researchers discovered that after about age 11, 77% of what we hear is negative.  Whether or not we are conscious of it, we internalize these negative messages.  (I’m fat, I have no willpower, I’m lazy, I’m too old….).

These researcher pioneered the field of neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP.  (Neuro=brain, linguistic=language – what we tell ourselves.)  Could repeating positive messages affect behavior?  The answer was yes!  These positive messages are known as “affirmations“.  There are a few tricks to it – for example, if you tell yourself you will lose weight, your brain will focus on the fact that you need to lose weight, and you will self-sabotage.  Instead, tell yourself that you are moving toward your ideal weight.  Ken Blanchard discovered that it takes repetition to counteract those negative messages, so those who use NLP repeat the affirmations by listening to a recording of them every night or posting them around their home and workspace so they read them often.

A life coach or therapist who is trained in NLP can write custom affirmations for you based on your goals.  If you want to try some generic ones on for size, I recommend Affirm Your Life, where you can choose from hundreds of affirmations and even add them as an app on your phone.

Another trick to following through on resolutions is to have someone hold you accountable. Once again, a life coach can fill this role, or you can just buddy up with a friend and check in with each other regularly.  Imagining how you feel when you achieve your goals is another powerful motivator that will help to keep you on track.

In short, you don’t have to become a statistic:  with some smart strategic planning, you can dramatically increase your chances of success.  Think how proud you will be and how good you will feel when that resolution becomes a habit!


The History of Affirmations

If you’ve ever started a diet only to quit a couple of weeks later, decided to write the great American novel and gave up after the first few pages, or simply tried to give up a bad habit, you know firsthand just how hard change can be.  One technique used to facilitate change and help individuals to reach their highest potential is the use of affirmations.  Contrary to popular perception, the use of affirmations is not a New Age, “fluffy” technique.  The use of affirmations can be traced to ancient eastern religions, and its effectiveness is backed by modern neuroscience.

What are affirmations?

Affirmations are words or phrases that evoke a positive state of mind, such as, “I am strong and beautiful”.  According to, they are closely related to mantras, which are religious or mystical symbols or poems that are repeated or chanted during meditation.  Buddhist and Sanskrit mantras have an ancient history; the word mantra is from the Sanskrit roots, “man”, to think, and “tra” to liberate, meaning that they are an avenue to free one’s mind from thought.  Mention affirmations to many people and they will think of the hilarious Saturday Night Live character, Stuart Smalley:  “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!

Affirmations Are Rooted in Science

But despite the ribbing affirmations have taken, they have some serious scientific backing in the form of neuro-linguistic programming.  This system was founded in the 1970’s by two neuro-scientists from the University of Santa Cruz, John Grinder and Richard Bandler.  After studying the behaviors of the most exceptional and successful psychotherapists, they theorized that success can be achieved by increasing positive behaviors and decreasing negative ones.  (University of Hawaii, 1990) They then incorporated the work of linguists such as Alfred Korzybski and Noam Chomsky to understand Meta models: language patterns that unintentionally limit understanding and outcome possibilities. (Center for Coaching Certification, 2012)  To understand how this works, think of a dog who is kept in the yard with an “invisible fence”, an electronic barrier that senses when the dog tries to cross it and delivers a mild shock through the dog’s collar.  Negative thought patterns (Meta models) are like an invisible fence:  when we try to change a habit, we are unconsciously knocked back into our “yard”, our set patterns of behavior.

The Use of Affirmations Today

Many successful writers and celebrities use some form of affirmation or visualization to achieve success, such as Norman Vincent Peale, Anthony Robbins, Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  However, the use of affirmations is not limited to the rich and famous.  Most life and career coaches, as well as some psychotherapists, are trained to listen to their clients and identify their language patterns to screen for Meta-models.  They can use the client’s goals to write positive affirmations using the client’s own words in a positive, non-limiting way.  The client then listens to the affirmations regularly and posts them around the home and office in order to facilitate change and reach their full potential.  Used properly, affirmations are an invaluable tool to achieve success.

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