I find behaviour change fascinating. We assume we behave rationally which implies that if we know something is good for us, we’ll do it and, conversely, if we know something is bad for us, we won’t. If only it were that simple!
In order to improve our health, we often need to change our behaviour. Conventional approaches are based on education, but, for most people, they don’t work because there isn’t a gap in our knowledge. I don’t know any smokers who think smoking is good for them and, yet, they continue to smoke…
We are all inclined to give ourselves a hard time when we “give into temptation” or “fall off the wagon”. This is a scenario that is familiar to everyone, which is a strong indication that it is not so easy.
Motivation and willpower are finite but are great to get you started. Over 50% of our behaviour is habitual. Therefore, if we can make new healthy habits, we are onto a winner.
So, how do you form new habits? There are several things that can really help:
- If you want your behaviours to become habits, they have to be really easy. Before you start, ask yourself “how likely am I to be able to do that on a scale of 1 to 10?” If it’s less than about 8, then you need to make it easier. You can always build it up once you’ve established the habit. Consistency is key.
- Habits are sticky, so you need to “stick” a new behaviour onto an existing habit, like brushing your teeth or watching the news. Think about your daily routine and transition points in your day, such as when you get home from work or put the children to bed. These are often good times to add in a new behaviour.
- Respect your body clock. If you are a morning person you might find it easy to exercise in the morning. If you struggle to get out of bed, then 6am Boot Camp is never going to be for you. Also, try and do your new behaviour at the same time every day; science shows you are much more likely to form a lasting habit.
- Plan your environment. We are fundamentally lazy so make it easy for yourself to achieve your new behaviour. If you leave your exercise kit next to your bed, you are more likely to put it on and do some exercise first thing. If you have a drawer full chocolate in the house, you’ll eat it, but you probably wouldn’t bother to go out to buy some.
- Be positive. Think about the language you use when you talk to yourself. If you are trying not to eat an unhealthy snack, tell yourself “not now”, rather than thinking of it being “bad”, or you could focus on the first step, like choosing your exercise playlist.
- Celebrate your success – every time you do your new behaviour. This way you focus on the journey rather than the destination and reinforce the new behaviour to help it become a habit. It might seem childish, but a sticker chart or a jar you fill with buttons every time you’ve achieved your new behaviour can be really motivating.
- Be kind to yourself. Inevitably, things will get in the way and derail you. In the words of Heather McKee (see listen below), when this happens (and it will happen) see it as “a bend in the road, not the end of the road”.
Keep it simple and start small. The consistency of small changes can layer up to make a huge difference.
I am sharing some of my favourite resources if you would like to delve deeper.
BJ Fogg, author of “Tiny Habits” shows us that the key to lasting change does not lie in planning big, monumental changes, but in thinking really, really small.
The steps outlined above come from “Feel Better in 5”. Dr Chatterjee asks you to give him 5 minutes of your time, 3 times day for 5 days a week to make lasting changes to your health.
Dr Heather McKee is an expert in behaviour change and weight loss psychology. She discusses evidence based, sustainable alternatives to quick fixes and fads.
If you are keen to give it a try, sign up for BJ Fogg’s free 5 day program to get you started.
James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits”, shares lots of wisdom re habits – and life in general!
If you would like any further information or resources, or have any suggestions on how I could improve this blog, please let me know.
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