We’re now four weeks into the new year, and some resolutions may have started wobbling a bit (or fallen by the wayside altogether). This week, I ran the second of a two-part workshop on how to stick to New Years resolutions. At some point, I will get around to writing about all of the topics we discussed at these workshops! But today, I thought I’d give a quick run-down of the tips we went over and some useful links and tools.
Tip #1: Repetition repetition repetition.
This seems like an obvious one, but it’s necessary to spell it out. For habits to form, they need to be repeated as often as possible. In the early days, you might find yourself making excuses for not carrying out your new behaviour. Just being aware of this can help you to get through it and do the behaviour anyway. The greater the repetition, the stronger the habit.
Tip #2: Prioritise
Don’t blow a gasket trying to make lots of big changes all at once. Write down all of the changes or habits that you want to make and rank them in order of importance. Then work at them one or two at a time, from the top of the list down.
Biting off more than you can chew can often leave you feeling very demotivated!
Tip #3: Prepare the night before
Even though habits evolved to make life easier for our brains, in the early days of making a habits it actually takes a bit of effort. So, take a load off the brain at the time of behaviour by preparing the night before. Putting things in place the night before would make the brain do less work and you’ll be more likely to do the habit.
If you’re planning to run in the morning, put your running shoes and kit out the night before. If your resolution is to write more, get your writing space ready the night before.
This way, when it comes to performing the behaviour, your brain has to do very little. In fact, the sight of your running shoes by the door in the morning might even become a cue to run in itself!
Tip #4: Reward yourself
Habits that are good for you aren’t always instantly rewarding, but instant rewards can help strengthen a habit. So, think about rewarding yourself each time you perform a habit.
I should mention that if the only reason you’re changing your habits is to get rewards, then this is unlikely to end well! This all links back to need a strong source of motivation in the first place (i.e., something you enjoy or something you value). Only if you already have a solid source of motivation will rewards work to strengthen the habit.
Two points to make if you’re thinking of using rewards in this way. First, it’s important that the reward is instant, not something that comes hours afterwards. Otherwise the reward won’t be associated with the behaviour. Second, make sure that the reward doesn’t undo the habit you’re trying to establish. For example, going for a run and then eating a huge burger isn’t going to do your long-term health any good!
Tip #5: Use the power of cues
Try to find different cues for your habits. I used music as a cue to help me focus when I was reading. Whenever I was reading, I’d play a specific album. Eventually, after much repetition, this album became a cue for me to focus. (The album was How Strange, Innocence, By Explosions in the Sky, if you were wondering.)
Smartphone notifications are another possibility for some people (although not for me… I’d rather avoid having even more notifications on my phone!).
Tip #6: Couple new and established habits
Established habits can be used as a cue for new habits. A classic one is coupling eating a meal (established habit) with going for a walk (new habit). An added bonus of this particular habit is that going for a walk after a meal actually reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes, and helps digestion. Repeat this simple pairing of eating then walking over and over again, and eventually it will become a habit. What other habits could you couple?
Tip #7: Habit stacking
We can take coupling to another level and use habit stacking – which is creating routines of small habits that help us work towards our resolutions.
Start off with an established habit, something like cleaning your teeth, feeding the dog, or making breakfast. Then choose a habit your want to form, and couple it up with this established habit (just like above). For example, if one of your resolutions is to be more mindful, do a 5-minute meditation after your first habit.
Once you’re confident that these habits have been coupled, you add another one. For example, pack a healthy lunch for the day. Once these three habits are established, add another one, such as planning your day ahead.
Continually add on small habits to form a stack. This could be up to 10 habits in total. But try to make sure that these take 5 minutes or less, and the overall stack isn’t more than 30 minutes. S.J. Scott has written a good book on habit stacking techniques, which you can see here.
Tip #8: Sleep
I intend to write in more detail about sleep and behaviour another time. Sleep is a cornerstone habit. That is, If you make sure that you’re getting enough sleep, this will spill over into other aspects of your life – physical health, mental health. And, importantly, your ability to change behaviour.
Sleep is important in making new habits because, in the early days of habit formation, it takes a little bit of effort to stick to these new behaviours. So, if we’re tired from a lack of sleep, we’re more likely to fall back into old habits.
Anything less than 7 hours of sleep is generally classified as sleep deprivation, and the list of reasons for not getting enough sleep is huge. Try not to let sleep deprivation become chronic, and seek help if you’re really struggling.
Tip #9: Be mindful
The effects of mindfulness on behaviour change has formed a huge part of my own research. In a nutshell, being more mindful results in you being more in touch with your habits and habitual responses to triggers or cues. If you’re aware of them, you’re in a better position to control them. Mindfulness also helps you to become aware of those excuses you give yourself when you move away from your comfort zone, which stop you from achieving what you want to achieve. The mind is a fantastic storyteller, but don’t let it avoid the things that will eventually fulfil you.
Acceptance, another aspect of mindfulness, is also closely related to self-compassion. This is also really important when it comes to changing your behaviour. You don’t need to strive for perfection. Definitely another topic for a future post!
Tip #10: Practical tools for habit-forming
Free, and in both website and app form, Stickk is a habit-building platform developed by the researchers at the University of Harvard, and based on behavioural economics. Choose to increase accountability by bringing in others as referees, or even back yourself to be successful in changing your habits. Other apps or sites are available, but I haven’t used them as yet. These include Habitica, coach.me, HabitBull.
There are also some great physical diaries and planners out there that encourage you to reflect and make long-term changes. Brendan Burchard has a High Performance Planner here, and Frank is a New Zealand-based company that make some great reflective journals here. There are plenty of others out there, but those are the two that I’m familiar with. For a cheaper alternative, just buy a blank notebook and use that instead.
There are lots of these types of things, it’s just a case of trying them out for yourself to see what works for you.
That’s it. A brief run down of the 10 tips to changing or making habits. Remember, it’s okay to fail once in a while. Go easy on yourself and have some self-compassion.
If you wanted to check out the workshop video in its entirety, just jump on over to the Mensana Movement Facebook page here. Also feel free to book in a session here to see how I can help you stick to your behaviour goals, at any time of the year.