By Heidi Weiss, NTP, MPH
The beginning of the year is an ideal time to evaluate your health habits. Hopefully you’ve had some down time to recharge and reflect: What do you want to do differently? How do things need to change. But often, New Year’s Resolutions end up sliding right off the to-do list and are only remembered weeks later. Here’s why:
they focus on WHAT rather than HOW
they are too big
they fail to address environmental cues
We will focus on daily habits since they have a much greater impact in helping you achieve your health goals given their frequent repetition. Based on behavior change science, the writings of James Clear, and the Kaizen method, here’s how to formulate your resolutions to create habit change that works:
Frame the goal in terms of HOW rather than WHAT
When choosing a goal to work toward, rather than focusing on the outcome (doubling your income or running a marathon), you can get a lot farther by choosing a behavior that gets you there. While aspirational goals are motivating in the short term, they have less staying power. (When motivation inevitably wanes, they will falter.)
If you can instead couch your goal with the framework of what James Clear calls “who you wish to become” rather than “what you want to achieve,” you are developing a more long-term, sustainable motivation for change. For example, the goal is to become a runner rather than simply to run a marathon – framing it in this way increases the likelihood that you will stick with the new habit because it is more forgiving as well as motivating.
Make the goal manageable in size.
This sounds easy, but it is perhaps the most important factor in determining what habits stick, and is surprisingly challenging. (E.g,: putting on your running shoes rather than walking 10,000 steps every day, doing one minute of meditation on a regular basis rather than the full hour you aspire to.) In order to melt away resistance, start small — like so small that it feels silly!
This builds confidence in your ability to complete the task (or what researchers call self-efficacy), and begins to strengthen the muscle required to perform your goal. Once you have established the smaller habit, it is much easier to continue to build upon it. James Clear’s Two-Minute Rule is handy: “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
Include WHEN you will perform the action (or non-action).
Many studies have shown the positive impact that forming an “implementation intention” has on follow-through of a desired action. Implementation intentions look like this: “I will (desired action) at (time of day) every (desired frequency).” If it is something that you want to abstain from doing, it is helpful to replace the action with a more desirable alternative, because NOT doing something is harder to accomplish mentally than doing something, given our reward-circuits.
Address competing habits.
In order to create effective and actionable behavior change statements, it is important to gain awareness of what your current habits are in relation to the desired habit or behavior. If, for example, you want to start meditating every morning, but your phone that contains the meditation app you use distracts you with notifications before you get to the meditation, you may need to change some notification settings on your phone. It is important to formulate your new habit with that in mind.
In order to eliminate competing habits, it’s necessary to first become aware of them. I recommend that you start by making a list of all the habits that you engage in daily. Some will be desirable (they benefit you in the long-term), while others may not. If any interfere with the habit that you are trying to establish, you may need to get creative with changing the time of day or place you engage in them, or work on eliminating them before beginning the new habit.
Environment is foundational for success.
“Cueing” is the process by which you are reminded to do something, whether that is a habit you are trying to break or one that you would like to begin. Your environment cues you all the time, whether or not you want it to, and can dramatically impact how easy or difficult it is for a new goal to stick.
If you have cues in your environment that are reminding you of a habit you are trying to abstain from, it will make shifting away from that habit much more challenging (e.g. keeping junk food in the house while trying to establish a new habit of eating a more whole-foods diet). Likewise, it is helpful to put items that remind you of a new habit you are trying to create in sight, where you won’t forget them. Here’s where a picture like the one above to “worry less” could come in very handy, as it provides an environmental cue or reminder. It would likely be even more powerful if tied to a REASON you have to worry less, like a picture of someone who you know who this behavior affects strongly.
However, it is necessary to be careful with behavior change tactics like changing the design of your environment, because any feelings of shame that arise from cueing can also stimulate a negative behavior. Focus on positive images, and eliminate reminders or associations that you have with negative habits.
The opportunities we have to change our lives through goal setting are really exciting. If you are interested in learning more about motivation, mindset, and habit change to make health changes, schedule a free consult with Heidi here.
If you would like help in developing a healthy habit of weekly therapeutic movement with one of our 6-Week Series Pilates classes, register here.