J.D. “Jim” Fox, Head Coach, Next Act Coaching
Lots of people make — and fail — New Year’s resolutions. Ironically, that may be a good thing. It means big changes — starting a new career or business, moving cross-country, ending toxic relationships — are on the plate.
Backstory: years ago, I ran the national agency PR for Zyban, the first stop-smoking pill. To prepare, our team did two deep research dives — covering the science of addiction, and the science around behavioral change.
Specific to the tens of millions of smokers, most try to quit. They fail, at least on the first try. Of course, the reinforcing factors are critical. Many women start smoking as teenagers to control their weight. For men, smoking is often partnered with what their buddies do (i.e., drinking). For everyone, smoking brings stress relief of some sort. And, of course, nicotine is among the most physically addictive of drugs.
On top of all that, bring in the science of change. What I learned was that it’s usually not a linear process. You don’t just decide to change, and change happens.
You decide to change, make some moves, then start to fail (insert “experience setbacks” or a similar euphemism if “fail” sounds too harsh). Whatever you call them, they make you feel bad about yourself and your capacity to change — at least for a while.
Here’s the lesson worth remembering: each time you “fail,” you learn something that becomes essential to your eventual success. How you feel is every bit as important as what you think.
Over time, smokers learn what their triggers are, and how to maneuver around them. It usually takes many tries, and those who finally succeed often volunteer that it was the hardest thing they ever did. Many start by making quitting a New Year’s resolution.
I’d argue that starting a new career, turning an idea into a business, or upgrading your life’s relationships can be every bit as difficult. You plan, you get excited, you attract allies … and you start to fail. The first new client is worse than your old boss. Your financial projections don’t survive the first two months. Life happens in ways you couldn’t anticipate.
Should any of that stop you? Of course not. It’s your life; do your best to design it, and bring in all the help you can.
By the way, a multi-pronged approach is where many smokers end up — support from key friends, taking a pill, wearing a patch, probably keeping some nicotine gum handy. Big changes mean using all the tools available to you, and learning from your (hopefully small) failures.
Welcome to the 2018 Resolutions Season! I hope you’re planning some big changes to improve your life, and I bet that at some level you’re going to fail. In my book, failing means you’re trying. I’ll bet on you over those who try to coast through life, never risking failure and wondering why they’re so unhappy.