"Change or Die," the Book, and Resolutions

I'm excited to let you know that I've expanded my May 2005 Fast Company cover story into a full-length book, "Change or Die," which goes on sale today in U.S. bookstores. I'll be blogging about "Change or Die" throughout the week. Today I'll look at what psychology tells us about how to stick to your New Years resolutions.

For starters you should realize that you're up against some really tough odds. Marti Hope Gonzales, a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, found that six weeks into the new year, 80 percent of people have already broken their New Years resolutions or can't even remember them anymore.

One of the most common New Years resolutions is to go on a diet, and we all know that's hard, but it's still shocking to realize exactly how difficult: a National Institutes for Health study found that 97 percent of people who lose weight wind up gaining it all back within five years.

Of course, any kind of profound change is very challenging. The fact that got me started on this two-year project was that 90 percent of patients with severe heart disease fail to change their unhealthy lifestyles even after their doctors tell them that they're in a "change or die" situation.

What can we do to improve the odds and make those New Years resolutions stick?

Start by realizing that it's hard to do away with our "problems" when those "problems" are actually our attempted "solutions" to deeper issues. For example, you might think that overeating is your problem, and so your New Years resolution is to go on a diet and lose weight. But what if overeating is the way you try to solve more fundamental problems such as stress, anxiety, loneliness, and existential despair? Overeating is an "attempted solution" to those deeper troubles. It's a bad solution, because ultimately it can undermine or ruin your health. But it's the "solution" that you know and trust.

In this case the way to change is to find other, better solutions to the underlying problems of stress, anxiety, and loneliness. Instead of going on a diet, you might want to take up yoga or meditation, or to get more involved in a social group or church. Instead of going back to the same "solution" that has failed you year after year when you make New Years resolutions—in this case, dieting—why not try a new solution?

The paradox, of course, is that these new solutions don't occur to us because of how we've framed the problem to begin with.

If you're interested in looking further into these issues, please pick up a copy of my new book "Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life." I also strongly recommend the writings of Dr. Richard Fisch, a pioneering psychologist. Fisch hit upon this fascinating approach of reframing problems and solutions back in the 1960s along with his colleagues at the Brief Therapy Center in Palo Alto, where he still practices.

—Alan Deutschman

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  • Looking to Change

    I'm listening to the audiobook from Audible.com and it's one of the most helpful, insightful I've read or listened to. Thank you Alan!

    As for Survey's comment above, I wouldn't give credence to a "reviewer" who has no idea what he/she is talking about, having obviously not even read the original article and, worse, appears to be trying to sell something. F**k off!

  • Alvaro

    In reference to the last comment: the Change or Die article was extremely insightful and based on latest research and practice around neuroplasticity. The author does a super job in bringing science into life-this is not an example of business blah-blah-blah.

    Having said that, take a look first at the original Change or Die article, for free in this site, and if you like it will be worth to get the book.

  • Survey Software Blogger

    I wouldn't buy a book like this from a business guy. What your attempting seems very Malcolm Gladwell-ish and while this is commendable, I wonder if you have the psych depth to make for a thoughtful read or if this is yet another business book with one central theme expanded upon for far too many pages.

    Mr Gladwell covers these subjects nicely.

  • H. D.

    Change or die?

    This reminds me of the old Jack Benny joke.

    When he was asked - "Your money or your life?" he did not answer right away. When asked again he said, "I'm thinking."

    How would you answer the question above?

    To most people the answer is obvious - they would choose their life over their money. ... however, their actions often seem to be in direct contradiction to their answer.

    What is more important to you, your money your life?

    Do your actions support your answer?

    When you stated, “The fact that got me started on this two-year project was that 90 percent of patients with severe heart disease fail to change their unhealthy lifestyles even after their doctors tell them that they're in a "change or die" situation.” - - - it got my attention – I am in that group.

    I have seen others in a similar position die.

    Let’s hope your book helps to get our/my attention - before it is too late.

    Thank you, Alan.

  • Joe Raasch

    This is great news and congratulations! I've used the heart attack example and statistics several times in my work to show the importance and necessity of a structured change management methodology.

    If only 1 in 8 people change their lifestyle after surviving a heart attack, how can we get people to use a new computer system at work? Your article, and I expect now the book, tells us how.

    Thank you!

  • Valeria Maltoni

    Congratulations, Alan. That was one of the key articles I talked about and referenced in my writing over time.

    When I was working on child brain neurological development, the premise to the program was that it needed to address the cause of the problem and not just be limited to trying to cure it through the symptoms. This is precisely why there is often a gap between what works in the promises we make ourselves and what does not.

    I look forward to the conversation on your new book.