Have you ever considered that, by being too ambitious, you’re simply setting yourself up for failure? ‘Trying to change too much, all at once, is a sure-fire way not to succeed,’ says behaviour change specialist Dr Heather McKee. ‘Research shows that it takes between 66 and 122 days to make a habit stick, but there’s more to it than that – the individual changes
need to be small enough to guarantee success. Simple habits can be changed more quickly, while complex ones can take longer.’ Here, Dr McKee lets us in on the secrets to creating a new norm.
1. BITE-SIZE HABITS
A habit is defined as an action that’s formed through repetition – and once they’re stuck, they’re notoriously hard to change. If you really want to make a change – such as flossing your teeth more, drinking more water or going for a run every day – you need to make it easy for yourself to succeed. And the best way to do that is by making small changes, one at a time. That way, you can then build up to bigger changes over time. ‘It’s much easier to make a tiny change and stick to it than it is to make huge changes all at once,’ says Dr McKee. ‘If you try to do too much at once, it leads to what’s known as “goal dilution”, which means you’re overstretching your willpower, which will lead to it eventually running out.’ For the best results, focus on one small change every week, and build up from there. ‘Sometimes the achievement might feel laughably small, but it’s progress, and the smaller things can easily be built on,’ adds Dr McKee.
2. MAKE IT ENJOYABLE
Making habit changes shouldn’t be a punishment – if you have a reason for wanting to make a change, it should be because you actually want to do it. ‘Trying to establish a habit that you don’t enjoy is setting yourself up for failure,’ explains Dr McKee. ‘Hate running on a treadmill? Choose something you actually like doing, such as going for long walks. It will be less of a battle to make it become your new habit because your brain will respond to the reward.’
3. PUT IT INTO CONTEXT
When you’ve decided to make a change, commit to it, and then decide where and when you’re going to start to make that change. ‘Putting it into context – the time and place that you will start forming this new habit – makes it 80% more likely that you’ll stick to it,’ says Dr McKee. ‘For example, if you want to drink more water every day, commit to starting at 8 am, and having one full glass before you do anything else.’
4. MAKE IT EASY FOR YOURSELF
Our brains are lazy, and if they can take the easy option, then they will. You have to work at making changes, which is why it’s important to change your environment in order to make it easier to succeed. ‘To make things easier, we need to reduce
the friction to helpful behaviour, and increase friction to unhelpful behaviour,’ says Dr McKee. ‘In other words, make it easier to do the things we want to achieve, and harder to do the things we’ve always done.’ So for example, if you want to spend less time on social media, change your phone’s home screen in order to make it harder for you to find the apps you always use. ‘Hide social media apps in a folder, and consider putting more helpful apps on the front page, such as meditation or fitness apps,’ suggests Dr McKee. Likewise, if you’re trying to watch less TV, make it harder to watch by putting away the remote control. If you’re trying to eat less, arrange the fridge so that when you open it you see a punnet of grapes rather than a bar of chocolate. ‘Whatever you can do to make it easier to achieve your goal, the better your chances of success,’ says Dr McKee.
5. CONNECT WITH WHAT YOU’RE DOING
If you don’t connect fully with your new habit, you will not succeed. If you’ve decided to drink more water, ask yourself why. Is it to feel more hydrated? Why? ‘To have more energy and feel healthier.’ Why do you want that? ‘So I can get rid of a feeling of lethargy.’ Really dig deep into your reasons for wanting to achieve something, and the motivation behind
your goal, to make it easier to visualise and carry out.
ALSO SEE 7 SIMPLE WAYS TO GET ORGANISED