What promise to myself shall I break this year?
Maybe you went to a party with some friends and talked about it. Maybe you stayed at home eating culinary delights (or leftover turkey), watched the Hootenanny and made promises to your family. Maybe you had to work and decided to confide in a colleague.
Every New Year’s Eve, people around the world make resolutions. They tell themselves, I’m going to get fit! I am going to be more organized at work! I am going to limit the time the kids have available to play on their tablets or phones!
A month on, many of us have slipped back into our old ways despite our good intentions. The gym membership now looks like a waste of money. Your emails keep you working longer hours than is healthy and the kids seem to have gone deaf again as the latest game or trendy social media channel engages them more than you can!
So, can this year be any different? The answer is yes it can be if you understand how habits are created. New Year’s Resolutions usually require a change of habit. Armed with this extra knowledge, your resolutions are more likely to still be there in 12 months’ time.
For the record, we are happy to share our resolutions and a 5-step plan to demonstrate how we can maintain these.
STEP 1 – Understand your habit loop
In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes how every habit has three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward. A process that needn’t be complex.
Let’s consider having a smoothie for breakfast. The cue for Dave is that when he steps into the kitchen and looks longingly at his stove-top coffee maker, he first goes to the fridge and finds smoothie ingredients. His routine is then to fill the blender and make the smoothie, decant this into his drinking bottle, fill the Express Expresso Maker with ground coffee and put it onto the stove. His reward is the first hit he gets from drinking the tasty, hot coffee.
STEP 2 – Figure out the cue
Cues are simple, everyday things such as the time of day, where you are, who is around you, a task
you are doing or an emotion you are experiencing. Rich tends to exercise first thing in the morning. His cue is simply the alarm clock ringing. This kick starts his routine and off he goes.
STEP 3 – Rewards, what are you craving?
Whilst a cue is important, simply identifying it isn’t enough. Habits are powerful because they deliver rewards, something you crave. To practice guitar more often Rich needs to identify the reward. He is what you would describe as a people person so for him the reward will be the approving comments he will get from his fellow band members. A recognition that he is adding value.
This reward is part of the motivation for creating or changing our habits. Sometimes motivation is extrinsic, such as peer approval but often more powerful can be the intrinsic factors, i.e. something that comes from the inside- out rather than the outside-in. For Rich, the intrinsic reward for practicing his guitar is simply his sense of personal satisfaction.
STEP 4 – What can get in the way?
If only being clear about your cues and rewards makes change occur effortlessly. It is part of the process but you know that your willpower is likely to flag at some point, especially if you are stressed or anxious. Anticipating the obstacles and/or temptations that may derail you is therefore important. Will Dave see the appetizing Pain-de-Chocolat apparently calling his name from inside the bread bin? Taking these off the family shopping list and adding fruit and veg instead seems a better way of avoiding the problem. Will Rich just hit the snooze button a few times and run out of time to exercise? Putting his gym gear by his bed so he sees them as he reaches for the alarm clock can help remind him of the routine he wants to maintain.
STEP 5 – Commit to your resolution writing
Much of the research around habits and hence around New Year’s resolutions has found that they last longest when people write them down as per the example below;
WHEN INSERT THE CUE HERE, I WILL INSERT YOUR ROUTINE HERE
BECAUSE IT PROVIDES ME WITH INSERT THE REWARD HERE
New Year’s Resolutions take willpower and patience, persevere and over time, a new habit will be born.
For those of you who want more help, Zentano’s High-Performance Thinking programme focuses on the qualities that leaders and managers in the modern world need to focus on. These qualities are under-pinned by five keystone High–Performance Habits. To find out more please contact us using the details below.
In the meantime, welcome to 2018, we hope that you can keep to your resolutions and have a happy and prosperous year ahead.
Andy Flack, Rich Horton and Dave Morris