It's been just over two weeks since you made that new year's resolution and for many of us the initial fervor has started to wear off. Before you give in and eat that donut, smoke that cigarette or have that beer; consider the humble star chart.
Several years ago as the working mom of two small girls, I was delighted to find a book called "Potty Train your Child in One Week". I quickly read through the book and learned a few powerful lessons. First, it takes a week only when your child is showing all the signs that they're really ready, you have about three days of standing by them to mop up the mess, and most importantly be sure to positively reinforce the right behaviors once they start to happen.
So we put a star chart on the bathroom door. Initially, anything that approximated the real deal on the potty got them a star and quickly the standard was raised. Now, being a psychologist, one would think I would appreciate the power of behavioral modification - but I've got to confess that I thought this whole star chart thing wouldn't really work. However, within a week, both girls made the transition and since then I have been a star chart devotee.
Balancing being an endurance athlete with being a mom and a CEO I must confess that there have been times where I have fallen off the training wagon no matter how good my intentions. I wanted to train. I knew how to train. But I just couldn't get my act together.
Then I came up with a simple self-help strategy. I created a basic star chart and asked my family to administer the rewards. Every day, my younger daughter was to ask if I was eating right, and my eldest daughter would ask if I did what I intended to do in terms of training. My husband would judge whether I'd done something that made him happy (he's a great cook so keeping him happy helps me eat right) and then I determined how well I'd done on "liquid management" - i.e. drinking enough water and limiting caffeine and alcohol.
Initially, it was fun and I built up my stars. Then I relapsed again for a couple of weeks and it started not to be fun anymore. But my girls wouldn't let up. Everyday day they'd ask those doggone questions. I wanted to kick myself for enlisting their help. They felt bad not administering a star so decided a frowning face was better than nothing. I'd created behavioral modification monsters.
They wanted to give me a star - and eventually I found myself being motivated simply to give them that pleasure. I didn't want to disappoint them. Maybe this is a bit what they felt when they were getting potty trained. Wow. Now that's an insight. Here I thought the potty training success was about the power of token rewards given in exchange for some action. More likely, the process of receiving the stars along with the praise, cheers and lots of hugs and kisses helped the children feel the joy of appreciation and achievement. They felt our encouragement and this motivated them to please us more. And let's not forget that the new state of being was infinitely more desirable.
Too often we set goals and work towards them without enlisting people around us to support and encourage us along the way. Almost all the goal setting literature emphasizes the importance of goals - goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound (SMART). I'm great at that. What I'm not so great at is letting others help me along the way. But I've learnt how powerful it is to invite others to help us attain our goals and to do this in tangible and specific ways.
So before you give up on your new year resolutions, ask yourself how you can enlist the support of the people in your life or just go ahead and create the star chart.