Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, January 13, 2015 12 comments
Photo credit: pippalou from morguefile.com 
Habit formation is always a hot topic in the new year, when many make resolutions regarding behavior changes they intend to make or goals they will strive to achieve. Key to these sorts of changes is new habits--behaviors one does automatically at certain times or in the presence of certain stimuli.

Habits, once formed, are difficult to change. That's both good and bad news. Good because if you focus on creating a habit through repetition, it will stick. Bad because negative habits can be difficult to overcome--they become hard wired into one's brain.

In my reading on habit development, a few basics struck me as useful, whether the habit being acquired was wiser spending, being smoke-free, writing regularly, or using social media effectively.

1. Take an honest self-assessment


Often we self-sabotage because we aren't intentional about what truly matters most, but go on moving in the same old ruts.

Begin by writing out your goals--say finishing a novel draft or saving a certain amount of money.

Next, figure out what current habits are blocking you from achieving your goals. What do you actually do now, when you do it, and what circumstances trigger it? For example, what do you do with your time when you could be writing? When do you impulse buy? What consistent triggers seem to impel you to not write or to overspend?

Lists like this can be long. But don't let that discourage you. You're looking for opportunities to make small changes that will add up to big boons in your life. You might discover, for example, that you spend an inordinate amount of time tidying up after your family--hours that could be reclaimed if they were better trained and given incentive to pitch in (reward charts, pay-per-chore). Or perhaps your lost time is due to TV watching four hours a day, an addiction to games on your phone, or frequent text sessions with you BFF about every inconsequential event of your day.

You might be surprised how you've been sabotaging yourself without really thinking about it. But this kind of knowledge is power.

2. Change your routine


Our harmful habits get ingrained mostly through repetition. The good news is that small changes can often remake our habits. If you are regularly wasting time and money sitting in the drive-thru line at Dunkin Donuts, try firing up the coffeemaker at home and change the route you drive to work. These two changes will remove the temptation to continue stopping at your old haunt.

Think creatively about each of the self-sabotaging behaviors on your list, and how small tweaks to your routine could remove the temptation to continue them. For example, move the TV to the exercise room to link the reward of TV with fitness. Perhaps you've had a hard time waking at dawn to write because it just doesn't fit your circadian rhythms to be mentally acute early. Shifting activities you now do in the evening to the morning (say laundry and ironing, paying bills and the like) could enable you to write in the evening instead.

Breaking the old routine can be a powerful tool for breaking a harmful habit.

3. Take small steps


Don't try to change every self-sabotaging behavior on your list at one time. Take on one thing at a time. And consider also what was comforting about those bad habits. How might a slight modification get you closer to your goal? For example, say you've been overspending at a weekly dine-out with your friends. Those times are precious for your friendships but hard on the wallet. Could you try cheaper eateries? Alternate between restaurants and pot-luck meals in someone's home? Modify what you order, perhaps skipping the wine and dessert, to save your budget?

The small change I'd like to implement is to blog on a different day. I've found that early in the week, I have far less time to devote to social media because my day job is consistently very busy Monday and Tuesday. Starting next week, I plan to shift to perhaps Wednesday. Stay tuned!

How are you doing so far with goals you've set for 2015? 


12 comments:

  1. Those are good tips - it really is about the small changes and how they build! Wishing you all the best for 2015! :)

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    1. The ideas are things I cobbled from four articles I'd read and tried to personalize them for my blog peeps. Wishing you a wonderful 2015 as well!

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  2. I'm still setting them up, small goals for each month.

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    1. Sounds like a good plan. Small, incremental goals keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

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  3. Like you December is my busiest month at work. I barely celebrated Christmas. I took the two weeks over Christmas vacation (school break) and recuperated. Literally just sat around the house, ate, and watched movies. Now that I'm back to school (work) it's busier than ever, and whatever I "thought" I wanted to change, I've forgotten it. Well, except for writing every day. I'm trying to keep to that one thing.

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  4. I've always felt like Jan. 1 is a somewhat arbitrary time to start new things. After all, for centuries, the calendar started in March (which is how we get September-7th month, October--8th month, November--9th month, December 10th month). For sure, starting new goals requires some breathing space.

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  5. I sometimes sabotage my own goals by being unrealistic. This year I'm trying to set fewer/smaller goal each month but be much firmer with myself on meeting them. A small change, like you said, but I'm hoping it will work.

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    1. Sounds like a sensible plan. Making smaller goals rather than failing at bigger goals seems like it would be far more encouraging. As the old saying goes, life is hard yard by yard, inch by inch it's a cinch. :-)

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  6. I totally agree that we need to think through what our priorities are and then make changes or goals based on what's really important. I'd love to make a promise to myself that I'd spend X amount of time working out in my garden once spring starts, but if I do, then it's likely I won't meet my writing goals. So I'll just have to squint and pretend there aren't any weeds. :)

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    1. I think that prioritization is so key for making goals and plans that you stick to and actually feel like you're using your time well. I hear you about the garden. Last year the hubs took over ours, but his enthusiasms tend to be one-time deals that last a few months and burn out, never to return.

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  7. These are excellent suggestions. I think we can jump on the resolution bandwagon, only to fail quickly and give up. Practical and doable solutions will reap better results. I've made a few changes so far this year, and am working on building better habits across the board. Thanks for the encouragement!

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  8. I never thought about addressing some of the issues that block my writing, quite like this, like doing some chores in the morning to free up time at night. Lots of great ideas here, thank you!!!

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