Are you really ready to change? Take this quiz and find out.
1. Every New Year’s, my list of resolutions is
a. ambitious—everything from losing weight to saving more money for my retirement.
b. realistic—I just try to bump my good behavior up a notch—be a better friend, give more money to charity—without giving myself any strict deadlines or goals.
c. Precise—I decide exactly how many men I will ask for a date or how many new jobs I will apply for.
The best answer is C. If your list of resolutions is too long, then you’ll just get overwhelmed and frustrated, because you won’t possibly be able to meet such high standards. If your resolutions are too vague, you won’t be able to track your progress: What exactly does “be a better friend” mean?
2. Whenever I decide to change something, it’s usually because
a. my doctor has put the fear of God into me.
b. I read a magazine article about why making this change is important.
c. I start daydreaming about how great life will be after I make the change.
The best answer is C. When you’re making a change, it’s important that the motivation comes from within. A doctor’s warnings or a magazine article might trigger the desire to change, but unless you have a deep personal desire to make the change, it will be difficult for you to stay on course.
3. If you want to break a bad habit, then you’ve got to
a. accept that you’ll occasionally slip up.
b. adopt a firm “no excuses” policy: If you’re serious about breaking this habit, then you have to go all the way.
c. reward yourself whenever you get it right.
The best answer is A. There’s no doubt about it—you will occasionally slip up. That’s why it’s critical to be able to forgive yourself and move on after a setback. A “no excuses” policy will only make you feel despair after you eat that slice of birthday cake or skip your exercise class,and you’ll be more likely to declare yourself hopeless and give up. Some people are motivated by rewards, but the real reward is staying on course and meeting your goal.
4. True or False: The best way to stop eating doughnuts is to stop thinking about doughnuts.
The best answer is False. This is the old pink-elephant syndrome. The more you try not to think about chocolate-frosted vanilla-cream doughnuts, the larger they will loom in your mind. That’s because part of your brain will be trying to obey, asking, “Am I thinking about doughnuts?” But if you instead allow yourself time to feel the craving, it will usually pass in a matter of seconds.
5. I’m motivated to change my life when
a. I realize that the status quo has become intolerable.
b. I discover an exciting new possibility.
c. I see that most of the people around me are making changes and moving on.
The best answer is B. The best way to make long-term changes is to move toward something, rather than away from something. For example, you’ll be more motivated to quit smoking if you focus on the longer, healthier life that quitting will give you, rather than on the terrifying prospect of the death and disease you’ll face if you don’t quit. Similarly, focusing on the feeling of ease and order you’ll have by keeping your house clean will get better results than stewing about the fact that you can never find anything.
6. Which resolution is least likely to be kept?
a. I will spend more time with my family.
b. I will lose one pound per week for the next six months.
c. I will become a green belt in karate.
The best answer is A. Even though spending more time with your family might seem like an easier challenge than learning karate or losing a pound a week, you’re less likely to follow through on it because you have no way of measuring your success. However, if you get more precise—for example, “I will to read to my son three nights a week”—you’ll be able to stay on track because you’ve given yourself a clear, measurable goal.
7. True or False: When you want to make a big change in your life, timing is crucial.
The best answer is False. If you wait for the best time to improve your diet, write a screenplay, or move to Spain, then you’re in for a long wait. There is never a perfect time.
8. When I think about trying to lose 10 pounds, I
a. ask my friends who have lost weight successfully what worked for them.
b. read every article I can find about diet and exercise.
c. think about how I successfully reached a different goal in the past.
The best answer is C. You’ve already created a success pathway in your brain. It’s easier to use that formula than it is to learn something completely new. That’s because by the time you’re an adult, making new neuropathways takes a lot of work—six to nine months of practice, say some scientists.
9. True or False: If you feel ambivalent about a goal, you probably aren’t passionate enough about it to pursue it.
The best answer is False. Changing your habits and patterns is difficult and takes a lot of sacrifice, so it’s only natural that you would feel ambivalent.
10. Failure is
c. not in my vocabulary.
The best answer is B. It’s like Michael Jordon says, “I have failed over and over again in my life. And that’s why … I succeed.” The most successful people know that the only way to move forward is to make lots of mistakes. People who don’t allow themselves the option of failure are far more likely to succumb to frustration and despair.
10 to 8 correct: You are definitely primed to make some big changes in your life.
7 to 4 correct: You’re ready to change, but you still have a few things holding you back. Perhaps your goals are based more on what your mother or your doctor wants for you than on what you want for yourself. Or maybe you get frustrated and give up each time you go off your diet or light up a cigarette.
3 to 0 correct: You may want to change, but right now you’re going about it in a way that practically guarantees frustration and failure.
For more resolution advice, read M. J. Ryan’s book This Year I Will … ($15.95, Broadway).