That turn of the clock to a new year naturally calls us to reflect on what we would like to improve. ‘This year I will…’ If you’ve done the “New Year’s Resolution” a time or two you may find this process discouraging. Some people become quite anti resolutions. But, let’s shed the false starts and look at how we can choose to be in control of our habits.
Habits are your brain’s default way to ensure that it gets rewards. The reward initially felt good and even if it has become unhelpful it still provides a relief or you wouldn’t keep doing it. Here is how it works.
1. Your brain scans for cues that will predict rewards (food, acceptance, praise…).
2. You start to crave the reward.
3. You respond to the cue.
4. You get the reward.
Sounds simple and it can be.
1. You’re frustrated while walking to work and smell fresh donuts.
2. You think it smell good and want one.
3. You buy one.
4. It tastes great and you feel better.
NEW YEAR’s RESOLUTIONs
Making good habits, and breaking bad ones.
If this action caused you to feel a lot better you can imagine that every time you walk down that street you will think of how good it feels to get a donut, and you’ll get them more often which increases the association.
This formula gives us a general template for taking charge of making and breaking habits.
Make a new habit – Exp: Increased exercise
1. Make the cue obvious (set gym clothes by door).
2. Make it attractive (by nice new gym clothes, plan to go with a friend).
3. Make it easy (pick a gym that’s on the way to work or after dropping the kids at school don’t go home drive to the gym).
4. Make it satisfying (let yourself enjoy the job well done with hot shower or sauna).
Reverse a bad habit – Exp: Comfort food
1. Make the cue invisible (throw out the chips, etc).
2. Make it unattractive (read the ingredients list and calorie count).
3. Make it hard (you’d have to get in the car and drive to get it).
4. Make it unsatisfying (keep a log so that you have to pay attention).
Like I said, it can be that simple, but it can also get very complex as the cues and responses can be layered on each other so that the reward is several steps away. If you find that you want to change a behavior and can’t figure out the steps I suggest that you write it out. The act of writing it makes us take a critical look at what we’re doing and saying to ourselves.
Wishing you a BRIGHT and BEAUTIFUL 2019!