Three mistakes to avoid when trying to change habits

Three mistakes to avoid when trying to change habits

If you have just experienced the end of daylight savings it’s likely the change has heightened your awareness of your sleeping patterns and daily habits, and that means it’s the perfect time to reset yourself for the year ahead.  

But before you sign up to the gym, switch to a Paleo diet or join the new meditation class, here are three mistakes to avoid when making and breaking habits.


1. Relying on willpower or motivation


Nike might say “Just Do It”, but that’s not always enough. In fact, our motivation ebbs and flows like a wave and the trick is to capitalise on moments of high motivation to make the hard decisions (e.g. sourcing the right gym, which can take time and energy) so that when our motivation invariably dips (often when we’re cosy in bed or snuggled on the couch) we are already committed. Remember to plan for the most exhausted version of yourself.


2. Think you always act rationally


Just because we know what we should do, doesn’t mean we do it. Eat well, exercise, take time to relax, focus on loved ones…a healthy life is not hard on paper, is it? Sadly we constantly self-sabotage and rationalise behaviour that is not in keeping with our goals – it’s part of being human and is what behavioural economics has shone a great big light on.

Promising to eat well at the start of the week and by the end of the week gorging on pizza and beer, or buying those expensive shoes today and worrying about saving for a house later, the trick is to design our habits in spite of these irrational behaviours, outsmarting ourselves so we can stick to our longer term plan.


3. Underestimate your environment


Our environment has a massive impact on our behaviour, often without us being consciously aware. Use a bigger bowl or bigger spoon and you’ll find you eat more ice-cream. Play French music in the background and you’ll tend to buy French wine. Hang out with people who are obese and you are more likely to be too. Both our physical and social environment shape our behaviour so the trick is to take charge and set ourselves up for success. Pay attention to where you are and who is around because that will have a significant impact on how you live your life.

For more on the how of making and breaking habits, including a personal action plan, check out my book “The How of Habits” or join tomorrow’s How of Habits webinar. Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.


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