Ok, so it’s the middle of January already and chances are many people’s resolutions for the new year have already crashed and burned. If you’re wanting to make lasting change, here are a few tips we’ve given people when we’ve held Behavioural Change workshops in the past. If you’re prepared to do the little bit of work they take, your chances of sticking to your goals are much higher:
1. Structure, Structure, Structure
It’s most often the case that when we make a wish list of new year resolutions, it’s exactly that – a list of wishes with no supportive structure in place to help us realise the changes as habits. The sort of structure that will help you succeed requires some effort and attention, but the results in the long run make it absolutely worthwhile.
Begin by being very clear about what your goals are. For example, ‘running’ or ‘running a few times a week’ just won’t do. It’s far too easy to get discouraged when we don’t have a clear objective and routine to get there. In this example, a much better goal would be 3 runs per week, when I wake up on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 20 minutes.
This detail is a great way to make more of an internal commitment to your goals.
2. Modest beginnings
When you begin new behaviours, it’s important to feel successful. For that reason set the bar for success low enough that it’s easy to meet, and also because you are bound to have lapses or setbacks after your first burst of enthusiasm. A modest success threshold will mean there is less of an obstacle to getting back into the swing of things.
For some people that might even mean that the 20 minute run in this example is as simple as a 5 minute walk. It doesn’t mean you can’t go for a 20 minute run, but if you’ve been sick for a week that 5 minute walk might be all you can muster the motivation for.
There are some great books out there that help with the process of positive behavioural change. Probably our favourite is Immunity to Change by Harvard researcher Robert Kegan. It lays out a process which allows you to recognise what behaviours and unconscious commitments get in the way of change. It’s easy and is another supportive structure that will help. Highly recommended.
4. Environmental Triggers
These are great ways to help make behaviours more automatic. An example would be putting your walking/running shoes by the side of your bed at night. That way, when you wake and your feet hit the floor and you see them you can get in the habit of putting them on and walking out the door without having to think about it. Another approach might be to get off your bus a stop early every day after work and walk the rest of the way if you’re introducing exercise for the first time.
5. Give it time
Developing any new habit takes a little time and reinforcement. The minimum time is about 3 weeks (if it’s a daily behaviour), so start with a commitment to make it that far. If it’s a healthy habit chances are you’ll be feeling some benefit from what you’ve been doing by then and motivation will come more easily.
Be mindful of your stress levels. Whenever we are responding to stress the active parts of our brain which run our stress responses powerfully resist change. This also applies to positive change. Our mental and emotional state is much more geared towards making it to the end of the day than it is to improving fitness, eating habits or emotional health. A great way to help this is to get adjusted and work through the most active stress responses you are carrying right now. Regular adjustments can help with your adaptability to change and make newer habits much easier to achieve.
Happy new year and good luck!