The New Year is a time for resolutions and new beginnings. Are you looking to change your lifestyle, if even just a little?
The sad reality is though, that just a few weeks into January many have abandoned their New Year’s resolutions. Eventually more than 9 out of 10 end up failing.
We’re working for a world where it’s possible to achieve sustainable, positive change in your life – in small steps. Here are the “3 Secrets of Change” we’re working to crack:
- Secret no. 1: WHAT? Make resolutions you can actually stick to.
- Secret no. 2: HOW? Approach change in a way that helps you stick to it.
- Secret no. 3: HELP! Get the tools and resources you need to support you.
In this post we’ll focus on Secret no 2: HOW to change your lifestyle so you’re more likely to stick to it.
This is a simple recipe to help you frame your thinking and set you up for success! Read the post, and if you get excited to try it – find it as a playlist called “Get Started With Change” on YOU-app by Dr. Tara Swart, Ph.D. Neuroscience.
All it needs is 5-10 minutes a day every day or every few days for up to 2 weeks. Good luck!
1 | DEFINE YOUR ‘DO’ OR ‘DON’T’
Simply start by defining your change: What’s your “do” or your “don’t”?
Why? Having clear, fixed goals is easier for your brain to stick to. Vague goals are distracting and you’re more likely to feel like giving up.
Your change may be a “do”, like “Go running 4 times a week”.
Or it may be a “don’t”, like “Cut down on sweets”, e.g. chocolate.
If it’s a “don’t” it’s good to also define a substitute, e.g. “Replace chocolate with fruit or nuts”. It’s easier for your brain to overwrite a habit than to just eliminate it.
2 | MAKE IT SMALL
Now take a first micro-step towards your goal. We often set big goals and then feel like failures when we don’t succeed 100%. Instead, try to find the smallest thing you can do TODAY and do that.
If your goal was e.g. to go running 4 times a week, make it small by saying “I’ll go running 10 minutes – then continue if I feel like it”. If your goal was to cut down on chocolate, make it small by saying “I’ll only have chocolate in the weekend” or “When I crave chocolate I’ll eat some dried fruit and then see how I feel”.
If you miss a day don’t waste precious mental energy berating yourself, just pick it up the next day. The key to self-improvement is to make resolutions you can stick to, so start small and build up!
3 | DRAFT A PLAN
Next, make your change concrete with a plan. We often define what we want to change and then think it’ll magically happen. Well, failing to plan is planning to fail.
If you’re goal was to run more, put your running days into your calendar at the start of every week.
If you’re cutting down on chocolate, start carrying around dried fruit or some other substitute to snack on, resolve not to have chocolate in the house, or plan to enjoy a few pieces of chocolate in the weekend.
Having it all thought out in advance uses less of your willpower as you go, so make willpower work FOR you, not against you.
4 | SET A TRIGGER
This is a crucial step many forget – setting a trigger. The best habits are tied to a specific time, place, person or event that remind you to do it. The psychology of ‘stimulus control’ is important here – what will make you more or less likely to act on your goal or to resist a temptation?
If it’s the running example, set an alarm the night before with your favorite running music, or lay out your running gear in advance.
If you’re cutting down on chocolate and you know a craving hits around 3pm every day, set an alarm for 2:30pm to snack on something healthier.
What trigger could you set for yourself?
5 | VISUALIZE A BARRIER
This may be a very powerful exercise for many. Visualizing a barrier or setback and how to deal with it makes you more likely to act accordingly when the situation arises. Why? Because your brain has a roadmap to use.
What could be a barrier for you? Visualize yourself facing and overcoming it.
If you know you’ll be unlikely to go running after a stressful day, imagine coming home, going out for 10 minutes and feeling empowered and relaxed afterwards.
If you know you’ll be tempted to eat a piece (or two) of cake at an upcoming social event, imagine yourself at the event, taking a small slice, eating it slowly, having a cup of tea and feeling much better the next day.
A visualization exercise can be almost as powerful for your brain as actually carrying out the behaviour itself.
6 | CREATE ACCOUNTABILITY
Finally, create accountability by involving another person in your change process. Doing something together with someone or making others aware of your change makes you much more likely to stick to it.
So tell a friend about your resolution. Commit together with someone. Set up a tracking board on your fridge for your family to see you ticking off days. Ask a loved one to remind you on the bad days. Interact with others attempting the same change (the YOU community can be good for this).
Most importantly – make yourself accountable to you, but don’t sweat the small stuff. You’ll have days when you can’t make it and that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up for it, just move on and tomorrow is a new day!
Want to try it out? Do the “Get Started With Change” playlist on YOU-app.
And remember to celebrate every micro-success!