December / January
How to avoid being one of the 66% of adults who break New Year resolutions within one month or less.
Attach pleasure to the new habit, pain to the old: Humans seek pleasure and avoid pain (Freud, Tony Robbins, many others). As you pull on your gym kit, if you are thinking “I hate exercise” (pain) how will you resist slipping back into the pleasure of TV on the sofa whilst munching crisps? So……
Be clear about the “why”: Neuroscientist Dr. Toleikyte suggests listing as close to 50 benefits of the new behaviour and 50 drawbacks of staying where you are as you can. Re-read first thing to cement in your brain WHY you want the new habit more than the old.
One stepping-stone at a time: You cross a raging river not with a single leap but by stepping onto the closest rock, then the next then the next till you are across. Pick one habit to change and take small steps to avoid triggering the “flight” response in which your brain “freaks out” (Dr Toleikyte again) at the unfamiliar routine, it all gets too much and you run back to the safety of the old habit.
Set realistic expectations: Whatever you are trying to change took time to get how it is so it is logical that re-training your brain will also takes time. A 2009 UCL study showed it look an average of 66 days to change a habit, longer if it was complicated. Factor this into your plans.
Stop “all or nothing” thinking. If today is not going 100% to plan, do what you can, you are still making progress.
Rewards: Plan in rewards (pleasure) for reaching each stepping stone towards your goal. Record your progress so when self-esteem is flagging you can boost yourself with evidence you can do it.
Look after yourself: Taking breaks whilst working and sleeping and eating well reduces overall levels of stress and tiredness and defuses these two triggers of “to hell with it” moments.
Escape the habit-web: Behaviour we want to change is often held in place by other habits e.g. on the way to work you buy coffee in a shop so you buy a pastry. Take coffee with you to avoid the shop and using up (finite) willpower resisting that pastry. Think about breaking chains of habits which have you shackled to behaviour you want to change.
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