When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the steps. – Confucious
Yep, it’s that time of year again, when, according to the experts, nearly half of us make New Year’s resolutions. And of that fearless group, only about eight percent actually achieve their resolutions. If you’re not one of the amazing eight percent, no worries – science is coming to your rescue.
In fact, behavioral psychology studies done over the past several years are confirming what most of us discovered a long time (and countless resolutions) ago: relying on willpower and self-discipline to achieve our resolutions is a total non-starter.
The good news? There’s a much better alternative to our annual exercise of setting unrealistic goals, and that alternative is habits. Determine what habits will support the positive change you’d like to make in your life, and then focus on developing a single habit until it’s become integrated into your routine. Then tackle the next habit. Turn a behavior into a habit and you no longer have to work at it so hard because you’ve essentially trained your brain to put those behaviors on automatic pilot.
As Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business puts it, “Habits can be changed, if we understand how they work.”
According to Duhigg, in order to stop a bad habit (think overeating, smoking, binge-watching Netflix until early in the morning), you first need to understand how the habit you want to stop or replace operates. The “habit loop” consists of three things: the cue (what triggers the behavior), the routine (what you do when triggered), and the reward (the physical, mental, or emotional payoff from the behavior).
Duhigg, who was trying to break himself of an afternoon cookie habit, figured out his own cookie-habit loop looked like this:
- Identify the routine. In his case this involved heading off to the cafeteria every afternoon, grabbing a chocolate chip cookie, and then eating it while he was chatting with his friends.
- Experiment with rewards. Duhigg knew that his cookie habit was meeting his needs in some way, but wasn’t sure how that was happening, so ever the scientist, he began experimenting with what the real rewards might be. Was it the physical break of getting up and moving? Then try a walk around the building instead. Was it eating something in the afternoon? Try replacing the cookie with an apple. Craving company? See if you get a similar reward from simply hanging out with friends, minus the cookie.
- Isolate the cue. According to Duhigg and expert research, almost all habit cues fall into one of five types: location, time, emotional state, other people, or an action that directly precedes the trigger. To figure out which it is for you, for three straight days write down your answers to these five questions: where were you, what time was it, what was your emotional state, who else was around, and what action preceded the behavior.
Once he went through this process of experimentation, he quickly discovered that even though he did have an urge to get up and go get a cookie at a specific time every day, the reward he really wanted was actually distraction. That realization allowed Duhigg to replace the cookie habit with a new habit of simply visiting with a friend for ten minutes when he needed a mental break.
So how can this process help you create positive change in your life? As Duhigg notes, “Once you understand how a habit operates – once you diagnose the cue, routine, and the reward – you gain power over it.” This will allow you to replace negative or damaging habits with positive ones, with routines that will support the behavioral changes you’d like to make.
The difference between resolutions and routines (habits) is that building positive habits provides slow, solid, and sustainable progress at a speed that makes sense for our overcommitted lives. And once you’ve got the hang of it, you can easily layer one habit on top of another, creating painless and steady momentum toward that previously unattainable New Year’s resolution.
If your goal for 2016 is to empower yourself with knowledge, look no further than American Sentinel University’s online nursing programs. Take control of your career and visit www.americansentinel.edu today. This article was brought to you by American Sentinel’s career coach, Kim Dority – be sure to check out her other articles for more tips.