If you are in the market for a new year’s resolution you can actually keep, choose civility. It is not measured in pounds or BMI; nor does it require a membership fee or expensive special equipment. Choosing civility is a low cost, high reward resolution that is guaranteed to enhance and improve the quality of your life. And isn’t that what resolutions are all about—self-improvement?
Perhaps you already know and support the work of the Door County Civility Project (doorcountycivilityproject.org and Facebook and Twitter). Perhaps you are familiar with the nine tools of civility (see box). And perhaps you recognize some less-than-civil habits in yourself that you would like to change this year. For example, you may decide that it is in your best interest, not to mention the people you live and work with, to be a more agreeable person than you currently are. But how do you make a lasting change—one that sticks?
Seeing the value in change and wanting to change a bad habit are clearly the first critical steps towards positive change. But we all know that, by itself, wanting to change does not make it happen. To the best of my knowledge, the only way to make a lasting change is to put in the necessary time, attention, and energy. While there is not much solid scientific evidence about how long it may take, one study quoted in a recent Harvard newsletter found that it took anywhere from 18 to 254 days before an action became automatic—that is, became a habit. The average was 66 days.
So, start achieving your lasting resolution by accepting the reality that gradual work towards change significantly improves your odds of success. Rushing change rarely works. Sorry, no overnight success stories here. Think months, not days or weeks.
Next, dream big. For example, picture yourself as the agreeable person you want to be; more generous, more affectionate, more cooperative with others. This big goal sets the target. Take some time to figure out why you have not made this change before. What was in it for you to be disagreeable? What you want is to tip the scales of the plusses and minuses enough that making this change is better than standing still.
Now, create a plan for yourself by thinking small, even tiny. Break that big goal into small goals, starting with the most easily accomplished change. For example, you could begin with an easy but effective goal of saying, “yes, and” instead of saying, “yes, but.” Don’t sabotage yourself by going for the hardest change first. As you start to practice your new strategies, you will find that you don’t feel quite right if you stop. That is a great incentive to keep going. You can gradually up the ante to changes that are more difficult. This way, you keep nudging your way towards the big goal. Make yourself accountable by signing the Civility Pledge (doorcountycivilityproject.com). Make a promise to someone whom you don’t want to let down.
Change is hard, or we wouldn’t need resolutions. But once your new habit takes root, you can rest assured that it will be as hard to break as the old habit. Happy New Year!
The Nine Tools of Civility
Do not gossip
Give constructive criticism
Retired Clinical Social Worker and Psychotherapist
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