When you think about it, every day is composed of one behaviour or habit followed by another. Some new adventures are thrown in there occasionally. For example, what do you do when you first get up, some may put the kettle on, some may get in the shower straight away, when you get dressed, do you put your trousers on first and then your shirt or shirt and then trousers?
So how do we stop, change, reduce one of those behaviours, or add a new, different one in?
First we must think about Awareness.
Are you trying to start/increase a habit, for example increase exercise sessions? Or are you trying to stop/reduce a habit, for example, stop eating sweets, or reduce alcohol intake to one glass on a Friday and Saturday only?
Stopping/reducing a habit may be made easier by distraction.
Think about your habit in terms of how automatic it has become and what the triggers are for this habit. What happens before this action and what are the behaviours/rewards afterwards? Perhaps, you have a glass biscuit jar in your kitchen and whenever you get in from work you are tired and hungry and the biscuits stare at you and you dive into the jar. Now, think about what would happen if something occurred to break you out of that pattern. What if you got a jar you couldn’t see inside, or better still you put the jar away from sight, or even better still you didn’t buy the biscuits for the house in the first place? So you are deliberately creating a position in which your habit change. Perhaps you take some food, such as some nuts and a apple to snack on, on the way home from work, so that when you get home you are not ravenous.
Starting/Increasing a desired behaviour:
This is harder to do. Time management, priorities, how important this new behaviour is to you will all play a role in this, but Plans and Goals can help.
Plan Vs Goals
Goals need to have plans. A goal without a plan will eventually fail to be reached. Behaviours are more successful at changing if you keep your plan in mind, even if you forget about the goals (Masicampo & Baumeister, 2011).
A goal is to lose 10lbs, but a plan is to go to the gym 3 x a week, run 5 miles and eat 500 calories less per day by focussing on nutrient rich foods. These will need to be reinforced still through smaller plans, for example shopping lists for the week, gym session plans, run routes to complete. Incorporating an additional positive component will help reinforce the new desired habit. For example, if you plan to eat better, why not book yourself into a cookery class?
People with strong will power tend to be able to delay gratification, override unwanted thoughts, stay cool under pressure and self regulate (Muraven et al, 1998). Keep your mind on the plan to strengthen the precise actions you need to reinforce the habit. For example, don’t worry whether or not you are losing weight, focus on making sure you get to the gym 3 x a week and running the 5 miles.
When times get tough and you stumble in your efforts, it is important to stay focussed on present and current actions, instead of dwelling on why you didn’t succeed.
And remember the 3P’s as always – Patience, Persistence and Perspiration.