Only two days into the new year and some of us are still considering what resolutions to make for the coming year while others have already said goodbye to resolutions already broken (well, I said no coffee or sugar, but…). So of course, it is only appropriate to look at the some of the recent articles on changing our habits, because as we existentialists know, everything we do and think in this world is a choice, as the only givens are birth in a human body and death. Every choice is sacred, even, as Sartre tells us, the choice to not choose.
Fast Company tells us that New Year’s resolutions are—surprise—notoriously hard to stick to: the magazine cites research from the University of Scranton stating that while 45 percent of Americans usually make these resolutions, only eight percent stick to them. The reason, according to the article, is that resolutions don’t just require statements but actual changes in habits, or even harder, breaking of old habits. The magazine outlines six steps to make habit changes easier, including creating a more conducive environment and support system, while also attaining necessary skills.
In addition, Fast Company presents another article suggesting a marketing change can help change habits—using environmental triggers. In this article, the author describes changes she and her co-workers were trying to make and the visual cues they used—for instance, a quarter on the desk reminded one worker that she was saving up for a wedding and that it was in her best interest to not spend frivolously. Another kept running shoes at her bedroom door to constantly remind her to work out.
What these strategies speak to is bringing awareness to the older, bad habits. Daniel Goleman stresses the importance of this in his article on LinkedIn Pulse. He notes that our habits are “largely invisible to us,” so becoming mindful of what we do is vital if we want to change them. Next, he says, we need to replace the old habit with a different behavior, and then practice this new behavior at every opportunity. Practice is key because we need to rewire neural connections in the brain, and thus make the new habit invisible and automatic.
According to Youth Health Magazine, the National Institute of Health has a four-step method to changing habits. Step one is the contemplation stage, where we think about the changes we want to make. Next comes the preparation stage, where we create the specific conditions to make sure we can make the changes happen. The actual changes occur during step three—the action step—as we start and continue the process. The fourth step is called “maintenance,” as we adjust to the new routine and make the changes permanent.
And if you need an app for this, PR Web reports that the productivity app 21&Different can help users create new habits via their smartphones. However, if you search New Year’s resolutions in your apps store, you will find a wide variety of goal setting and tracking apps, both free and fee-based, to help you in your quest for change.
But in the end, Quartz says we will probably break those resolutions anyway—but not to worry. The article explains:
Your brain isn’t on your side, either. The things that we resolve to do—exercise more regularly, eat a healthier diet, save more money—are exactly the habits psychology tells us are most difficult to adopt. They’re the kinds of things we know we should do but struggle to motivate ourselves to actually do in the moment: I know I’ll feel better if I go for a run this morning, but it’s cold and rainy outside and my couch is just so comfortable. This paradoxical failure of will—“I know this is good for me but I don’t want to do it right now”—is what psychologists call akrasia. (¶ 6)
Quartz tells us akrasia occurs when we know changes will not be seen or felt immediately—when they are long-term, rather than short-term. But if we use that failure, not to derail the project entirely, but rather to use the information wisely to help us get back on track and work smarter, we can actually sustain our resolutions over the long-term. By building in the idea that we fill probably not do this resolution thing perfectly and there will be bumps along the road, but those bumps are part of the process and not reason to give up, we are more likely to stay motivated and committed.
With apologies to Yoda, choose to change, or choose not to. Have a great 2015!
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