New Year’s Commitment

by Fernando Perfas

| Photo by Carol VanHook via Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

When speaking of New Year’s resolutions, I wonder how many of us can successfully live up to them. I don’t have any statistics to present, but I’m quite certain that the majority fail to execute them, and if ever we’re able to start, we often fail to sustain the effort. The fact that people make resolutions indicates that they are at least somewhat bothered by something — say, their weight, diabetes, hypertension, or behaviors that have untoward effects on them or other people. There is the desire to change, but how much are people willing to invest in them.

They have studied the behavioral change process. The research results on how behavior change happens found wide applications in treating diseases, particularly the behavioral components that contribute to their remission or exacerbation. The stages and processes of the change model have been very useful in explaining how behavioral change occurs. It describes the change as a developmental process that follows overlapping but discrete stages that depend on the readiness of the person to change, for example, reducing salt or sugar intake that exacerbates hypertension or diabetes or overindulgence on alcohol or drugs that fuels addiction.

Prochaska, DiClemente, and Norcross have proposed a model that explains how people change. It’s called Stages and Processes of Change, which consists of five stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. A person in the pre-contemplation stage does not think he has a problem, or if he does, he denies it exists regardless of what others think. He does not have the urgency to change. The person in this stage often does not respond well to any form of help. On the other hand, someone in the contemplation stage acknowledges that his behavior may be problematic but does not consider it serious enough or thinks two ways about changing his behavior.

When a person is in the preparation stage, he admits to his problem and is seriously considering doing something about it or changing his behavior sometime soon. He wants to change, but he is not quite sure yet how to go about it. He needs more information on various courses of action toward resolving his problematic behavior. A person who has made a significant change in his behavior is in the action stage. For example, he has quit using drugs for the last six months or has embarked on a diet and exercise regimen and lost ten pounds over the previous three months. Finally, when a person who has made a significant change looks for ways to sustain or maintain the change, he has reached the maintenance stage.

What is needed to seriously consider changing one’s problematic behavior or overcoming ambivalence to change is to experience an internal conflict or cognitive dissonance. The person must suffer the dissonance between continuing his behavior and suffering its consequences and changing his behavior for good.

“What is needed to seriously consider changing one’s problematic behavior or overcoming ambivalence to change is to experience an internal conflict or cognitive dissonance.”

The activities or behaviors that people engage in to move through the stages of change are called the processes of change. A person thinking of quitting smoking might find himself reading up on the risk of tobacco smoking or various ways of quitting tobacco. Avoiding or giving up certain people or places to stop using drugs is another change process relevant to moving up the stages of change.

I find this model useful in implementing change because it takes into account the different levels of motivation involved in the change process. Depending on where in the person’s spectrum of change, we can adjust the type of intervention we want to use or adjust our approach to help the person move up the stages of change without creating resistance. Another useful concept that ties very well with this model is the idea of incremental change versus global change. Baby steps that lead toward the ultimate goal make the change plan manageable for people contemplating it. “I will stop smoking and loss weight” sounds good, except these are daunting tasks.

“Make your change plan count. An overarching reason for the change plan makes an effort worthwhile and helps improve motivation.”

Having a modest and specific goal helps make the change plan more achievable. “I will make an effort to exercise and improve my diet” is a broad statement and lacks clarity for a change plan. How about rephrasing the change plan to “I will jog for thirty minutes at least twice a week” or “I will limit my rice intake to a cup a day.”

Make your change plan count. An overarching reason for the change plan makes an effort worthwhile and helps improve motivation. Reducing carbohydrate intake and exercising to reduce weight or control diabetes leads to better health and overall improvement in the quality of life. If these are important values to the person, they make the change effort more meaningful.

Finally, reward yourself for every small success you achieve along the way. It is a sound behavioral strategy and consistent with how behaviors are formed or programmed in our heads. Please! Please do not make this an excuse to buy yourself that Rolex watch you’ve been dreaming of or that Gucci handbag that would be the envy of your officemates. I know, I know you deserve one, but this is not the time for it. Make your reward commensurate to the effort and achievement. And also, do not reward yourself before you do the task, thinking that you want to feel good first to embark on your change plan. It is juvenile thinking and does not work. If you find yourself doing this, you need more than a change plan. You need to check yourself into a psychiatric ward because you are really sick.

This discussion leads us to the idea of making a New Year’s “commitment” instead of a “resolution.” Share your plan to someone who cares, and if appropriate, make that commitment known to that someone. They can help monitor your progress and provide a good source of feedback (except if that person likes to pick on you) . . . Where was I? Here we go, making a “New Year’s Commitment” to improve one’s well-being or quality of life through diet or healthy lifestyle by embarking on a ‘change plan” makes better sense.

Happy New Year to all!!!!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at

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