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The C-words that will help you stick to new year’s resolutions

Most of us break new year's resolutions but help is at hand for those determined to make lasting changes at home or at work

Unsplash/Jason Goodman
Clear communication is essential for any successful culture change in the workplace

January is often a time for New Year’s resolutions, and therefore perhaps a reminder of just how hard it is to change behaviour. Depending on who you listen to, up to 90 per cent of us have already broken our resolutions. 

I usually pick easy things to change: one year I resolved to wear jewellery every day, and another time I decided to have just one alarm on my phone at any time. This year I’ve resolved to finally re-write the book I was editing when the world changed in 2020. 

I’ve had ample time to do it since then but I haven’t managed to muster up the necessary focus, so I’m going to use what I know about making change stick to help myself. 

One thing we know makes a difference is telling other people. So I’m doing that here in the hopes that I will therefore be shamed into doing what I’ve said publicly. 

The book will be a novel and is called the C-word, where C stands for ‘culture’. Each chapter is also a C-word and explains one important aspect of how to change culture.

Of course, culture is just the aggregate of behaviour and so I’m also going to incorporate some of these C-words as I try to change my own behaviour and write this book.

Some of these are outlined below in the hope of helping you become one of the few who can look back at the year satisfied you’ve achieved your goals. Good luck to all! 

Communicate: Explain what you’re going to change and why, and be specific. For example, saying you want to achieve a “better work life balance” is vague. Instead say what your goal really, ie “to work out for one hour a day”.

This is important even when we’re working alone as we need to be clear on the metrics if we want to know whether we’ve succeeded. We also need to know the reasons for the change if we want to keep on going when things inevitably get tricky.

Clarify: As well as identifying what success will look like for you, it’s important to think about why this matters. How will it improve life over what you currently have?

Working out for an hour a day is a great goal, but you’re more likely to do it if you know why. Maybe you want to live longer or feel stronger, or fit into a certain size of clothes? Whatever the reason for the change, be clear on why you’re doing it. 

Confidence: Make sure you really believe you can make the change. Build up to it through smaller milestones along the way.

Compassion: Change is hard, so give yourself a break. If you fall off the wagon by eating donuts for breakfast it doesn’t mean you can’t get back on it with a salad at lunch. 

Crutches and consequences: Most of us need both crutches (eg, training) and awareness of negative consequences if we fail in order to make any kind of significant change. Think about what crutches will help you and what consequences you will have to live with or can impose upon yourself if the changes don’t happen. 

Commit: Most new things aren’t actually difficult, but they are hard because change needs commitment. We need to retrain ourselves and that means a daily focus on our own behaviour and self-accountability. 

Obviously, it’s even harder to change the behaviour of a group of people – ie, the culture – than it is to change our own.

My book will have many more chapters (including on communication, which may be the biggest C-word of all in culture change), as well as lots of examples from the real world. Assuming it gets written of course! 

Dawn Metcalfe is a workplace culture advisor, trainer and public speaker

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