The story (and underpinning research) of my New Year???s Resolution

It has taken me a while but I thought I had better get back to blogging after the Christmas period. I’m currently involved in a personal experiment called a diet which is proving extremely interesting. Whereas before Christmas I was the sort of person who would fill his face with whatever was available, who would sneak out to the kitchen and eat lumps of cheese, the sort of person who would liven up any dull moments with a Marathon (AKA a Snickers – not the long race thing), I am now a completely different type of person. I live on diet coke, grass and WeightWatchers’ packet meals. I spend all of my time thinking about food and denying myself. I look constantly for food substitutes that can momentarily kill my cravings. In other words I seem to have managed to turn this very normal activity of trying to moderate my excesses into a completely mentally unhealthy game. Score one for me!

Obviously, being on a diet is something that most people do all of the time. In particular most women I’ve met spend pretty much all of their time on a diet, about to start a diet or falling off of the wagon. The opportunity to consume surrounds us all and so the decision to go on a diet is essentially an impossible one to stick to. What is more it also requires us to shift our personality from one conception of ourselves to another. I am not just someone who likes eating, I’m also someone who likes to like eating. There is a part of my personality that enjoys excess and feels that any kind of personal editing of desire is giving in to “the man”. The anthem when I first went to university was Primal Scream’s Loaded and while I may not have really embraced the lifestyle, I was sympathetic with the idea that I should be able to do whatever I want to do.

However, once you leave university life isn’t generally about doing what you want to do all of the time, it is more usually about doing what you have to do. But, when you buy a chocolate bar or get a kebab then you are saying hell to the consequences and just living in the moment. That is a seductive state for someone like me who lives most of the time in the nexis of work and family commitments. Diets are clearly difficult.

However, lots of the messages that career development practitioners push are similarly difficult for people to pick up on and implement. “You should plan more”, “you should aspire more”, “you should be more organised”, “you should put yourself forwards more”, “take more chances”, “you need to network” and so on and so forth. They all key into our conceptions of who we are and ask us to engage in sustained behaviour change. The university student who does very little work, can’t think of any jobs he would like to do and has no interests or hobbies is unlikely to get a job unless he can either transform himself or counterfeit a different self for the length of a recruitment process. Careers practitioners aim to help with the transformation but are often involved in the counterfeiting by coaching people through recruitment processes.

Career counselling, career education and their tools such as LMI and self-examination tools (e.g. MBTI) are designed to help people to transform themselves and to become something different from what they are. Whether the different is described in the terms of “being the person you’ve always wanted to be” or whether it is described in terms of “the habits of successful people”. However the question is really do people change and if so what makes them change.
Let’s look back at the diet example. What does the research say about diets? What is it that makes a dieter successful or not? Obviously this isn’t my field and you should be very careful about believing my summary of the research – but what it seems to say is that dieting and weight loss programmes aren’t very effective. While there are lots of techniques that can get people to lose weight, very few seem to work over the long term. In other words behaviour change is jolly difficult – have a look at my diet tag on CiteULike to see what I read and make your own mind up http://www.citeulike.org/user/pigironjoe/tag/diet.

OK, so it doesn’t look good for me over the long run. But, hold on a minute, I made a New Years Resolution – surely that must make it more likely to succeed. However the little bit of research that I can find on New Year’s Resolutions is confusing (see http://www.citeulike.org/user/pigironjoe/tag/new_years_resolutions). Broadly it seems to say that they don’t necessarily work, but if they are combined with some active and conscious behaviour change tools , they can be more effective. I think that this means that if someone just wishes themself different they aren’t going to get very far, but if they actively change the way they behave they might be able to. For me this means dieting in tandem with my partner, no longer centring our lives around food and not going to the pub any more. I think I’m going to cry.

The point of all this is that behaviour change is difficult. Even with good will (a New Year’s Resolution) and a mechanism (such as a diet and exercise programme) achieving long term behaviour change is difficult. I don’t see any reason why this should be any different if we start to talk about people’s career management or approach to work. If this is right then someone should be doing some research about career behaviours and looking at ways to influence these. Can anyone direct me to any of this work.

Anyway, Ryvita don’t just eat themselves, I’ve got to get back to engaging in what I now is likely to be an ultimately futile struggle with my own personality. Yay!

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2 thoughts on “The story (and underpinning research) of my New Year???s Resolution

  1. What a fabulous post! Apart from *so* neatly summing up why I find any sort of dieting so difficult to do, I love the way it makes the link with career behaviours and how hard it is for people to change the way they are in order to be a more organised ‘careerist’.I don’t know where any of the research is, but thought you might like the thread on ‘career plans are no value’ on the LinkedIn group ‘Careers Debate’. Lots of thoughts about the merits or not of planning, what might be improtant to various sorts of people etc. Not directly about careers and behaviour change but lots of interesting points (including a great one about the difference between plans, strategies and goals illustrated with a diet analogy). Apologies of you have already seen it, though!PS try corn crackers as a change from Ryvita….

  2. I also loved this post – for me, it sums up not why I find dieting hard but why I no longer want to be a careers adviser! Thank you! <cancels ICG membership>I’ve had a lifetime of thinking I should be trying harder, aiming higher, etc, etc, but with the help of this wonderful post have come to realise that I LACK AMBITION and I HATE ACTION PLANNING and I don’t want to impose that on other people any more.Not that I can at the moment anyway, having been made redundant last year. Ha ha!

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