How may new years resolutions [NYRs] have you made in your life that you haven’t stuck to or didn’t last very long? Research shows that over 80% of resolutions fail within 2 weeks of 1st January. Often we start with all the greatest intentions, lose weight, get fit, run a 10k, even go online and use social media less, get healthier or exercise more. These are just a number of ‘automatic’ behaviours that we have accumulated over time. They have become conditioned responses. How often do we get up and automatically have a shower, go home at the end of a day at work and slump down on the sofa, or get a latte and a pastry from the coffee shop. These are all just habits that have become conditioned responses. Its like eating popcorn at a movie.
We are often told it is hard to change a habit. We are told that it takes 21 days. Well it is try that repetition is one of the keys to your NYR success.
Using science is going to increase your chances of success
To change an old habit, you essentially have to create a new one. So whether you are creating a new habit or changing an existing one the scientific method is the same.
Don’t forget you have already created hundreds even thousands of habits.
To create a new habit you must follow these three steps [based on B.J Fogg and Charles Duhigg]
Step 1 you must pick a small action. ‘Eat more healthier’ is not a small step, ‘Get more exercise’ is also not small. This is one of the BIG reasons NYRs don’t work. If it’s a habit and you want a new one it must be something really small, for example ‘Get more exercise’ could become ‘walk 1/3 more than I usually do’ or ‘take the stairs each morning, not the lift.’ Or ‘Have a smoothie every morning with kale in it’ these are small actions. It is better to succeed with a small goal than fail with a big one.
Step 2 You must attach a new action to a previous habit. So for example you have an old habit of sitting in front of the television and munching snacks. To stop this would break the trigger >routine>reward cycle. Sitting in front of the television is the trigger, the eating of snacks is the routine and the feeling the snacks give us is the reward. It is a loop. So we are ultimately rewarding sitting in front of the television. To change this we need to use micro habits. Or in reality add a small ‘pre-action’ So every time we are about to sit in front of the television we insert a small action such as taking a small walk or drinking water. We will very soon break the trigger >routine>reward that tells your brain that ‘its time for snacks’ every time you turn the television on. New habit sitting in front of the television means fresh water and healthy snacks.
Step 3 You MUST make the new action EASY to do for at least the first week. Because you are trying to establish a conditioned response, you need to practice the new habit from the existing stimulus from 5 to 7 times before it will “stick” on its own. To help you through this 5 to 7 times phase make it as EASY as possible. Write a note and stick it in your walking shoe that says “Total time today for walk is 30 minutes”. Write a note and put it next tot the remote control. “Today we have healthy snacks” get in some healthier snacks even healthy popcorn and fresh chilled water.
If you stick with this new routine for at least 5 to 7 days in a row you new habit will be established
So lets have a look at the other key part of the process. This is the ‘self story’ this is the science behind the story we tell ourselves, about ourselves. These stories are a combination of our values and beliefs and a measure of how we would like the world to view us. Whether you realise it or not we all make most of our decisions based on our self-stories. This is so we can remain true to our own story. When you make a decision or action based on your story it will feel right. When you make a decision or act in a way that doesn’t fit with your self-story you feel uncomfortable.
If you want to change your behaviours and make them stick, then you need to first change the underlying self-story that is operating. So if you want to be a more optimistic person. Then you are going to need to have a self-story that says that is your outlook on life.
In his book, Redirect Timothy Wilson describes a large body of research showing how stories can change behaviours long term. One of the techniques that he suggests is called ‘story editing’.
- Write out your existing story. Pay special attention to anything in the story that goes against the new resolution you want to adopt. So if your goal is to be less stressed and to ‘unplug’ more write out your story that is realistic, that shows that it is hard for you to become less stressed and that you tend to get overly involved in drama at home and at work.
- Now, rewrite your story, create a new self-story. Tell the story of the new way of being. Tell the story of the person who appreciates life and takes time the take care of them selves.
The technique of story editing is so simple that it doesn’t seem that it will work and it will sound almost silly and never create a profound change. However you must remember your original story was not a conscious creation it was constructed in your unconscious mind over time. Research has shown that one re-written self-story can make all the difference.
Give it a go, maybe 2019 is the year when your new years resolutions will stick
Timothy Wilson – Redirect
Charles Duhigg – The Power of Habit
Susan Weinschenk – How To Get People To Do Stuff