Two ways to fast-track habit change
Sunday, January 3, 2016/
Whether you are into New Year resolutions or not, around this time early in the year many of us seem to think about what we’d like to improve.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share my two top habit hacks to get you on your way in 2016.
The fastest way to change habits
Without a doubt the fastest way to change your habits is to structure your environment to support the desired behaviour. If that means drinking less alcohol for instance, use smaller wine glasses. Want to consume fewer calories? Use smaller plates and bowls. Increase the amount you move during the day? Invest in a standing desk.
The beauty of making tweaks to your environment is that you do it once and you don’t have to think about modifying your behaviour again – you’ve set the new default.
Making the most of your motivation
As I’ve written before, motivation is not stable – it ebbs and flows depending on how you are feeling. The trick is to capitalise on moments of peak motivation to start the habit change process so that when it invariably subsides, you are already on your way.
One method I’ve been experimenting with is what I call the “Elastic Band Strategy”. You know when you pull an elastic band and it strains and stretches to its limit, and then you release and the band becomes slack? We can use this concept when it comes to habits.
In August I undertook (endured) a 10 day Vipassana meditation course which takes place in complete silence while fasting and without any exercise or eye contact. I’ll write about the joys of being up up at 4am for 10 hours of meditation some other time, but this was my “Elastic Band”.
You see when I got home, getting up at 5am felt like a sleep in. Only one hour of meditation rather than 10? Easy peasy. By stretching the behaviour to its limits, I created ‘slack’ for me to enjoy when I sought to integrate the new meditation habit into my real world existence. My motivation to meditate naturally dropped off after being on such a structured course, but I could maintain the behaviour because it was less extreme than I had started with.
In essence, I had altered the parameters in my mind as to what was possible.
An alternative to the Elastic Band is to do the reverse and start with very small changes (ref BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits) which I have also used with success.
However, when you are charged up and enthusiastic like many are at this time of year, starting small can seem tedious and get frustrating so why not Elastic Band it instead?
While you’ve got time and motivation, what can you do to take your new behaviour to a (safe) extreme so that you can settle back at a more manageable point later? Maybe try 60 minutes meditation a day for a week so that 20 minutes seems easy? Go on a 10km hike each morning so that a 5km walk becomes your baseline? No alcohol for a month so that wine on the weekend is a treat?
I’ll be talking about these techniques and much more in my How of Habits webinar on 14 January, and I’d love you to join me either live or via the recording. Learn techniques that can help you take control of your habits to make 2016 an even better year.
You can find all the info, including what I cover, when and how on Eventbrite here.
Otherwise, my book The How of Habits is in stock and ready to read at your leisure either in print, PDF or e-book format.
Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.