Growth

Don’t get sucked back into old habits

Bri Williams /

It’s hard to believe it’s February already. How are you going with your plans to do things differently this year?

You might have found, despite good intentions when you were on holidays, that old habits have reasserted themselves and you’ve slotted right back into the old patterns of behaviour. If that’s you, here are three tips to help you make or break habits.

Do the hardest stuff right now

At the start of the year we are often at peak motivation and believe we can “just do it”. Unfortunately motivation ebbs and flows so the secret is to do the hard stuff while motivation is high so that when it invariably drops, you can fall back to the easier stuff.

For example, imagine you want to exercise more by joining a gym. Take advantage of times of high motivation by going and checking out the local gyms and negotiating the contract so that you are already committed when your motivation slips. 

Plan for the most exhausted version of yourself

Thanks to what’s known as the Planning Fallacy, we tend to make plans as if we live in an ideal world – one without interruption, with all required resources and where we feel great everyday.

“Sure, I can go to the gym for two hours every morning before work!”

That’s not the real world. Some days you’ll feel tired and doing something new will just feel too hard.

To counter this, break the new behaviour down into steps and START SMALL. In the early stages it’s more important to habituate the behaviour of going to the gym than it is actually working out, so “I’ll go into the gym every weekday morning” is a better approach.

When I was doing a lot of swimming I sustained the habit by telling myself I only had to do 10 laps – not swim two or three kilometres. Some days when I was tired I only swam those 10 laps, but more often I did a lot more.

Now Me, meet Future Me

Now Me is the part of us that prioritises immediate gratification over Future Me’s longer-term goals. Now Me eats the chocolate biscuit right now leaving Future Me to worry about weight gain.

When it comes to habits, Future Me is driving the decision to make changes, but it needs the day-to-day, moment-by-moment support of Now Me to succeed. That means getting ‘Now Me’ to worry about the same stuff as Future Me and the best way to do it is bring the ramifications of longer term behaviour into the short term, effectively scaring (if it’s a bad behaviour you want to break) or enticing (if it’s a good behaviour) Now Me into line.  

Start by answering “If I start/stop this behaviour, in six months I will… (describe how life looks for you)”, and then “If I start/stop this behaviour, in five years I will…(describe how life looks for you)”.

By aligning Now Me with Future Me you will stop self-sabotaging your longer-term goals. 

Advertisement
Bri Williams

Bri Williams is Australia's foremost authority on behavioural economics applied to everyday business and personal effectiveness. Author, speaker and leading consultant, Bri can make your life easier through behavioural science. More at www.briwilliams.com.au.