January is one of our favourite times of the year, because everybody and their dog are looking to make healthy habits! Hooray! In fact, three of the top five most common New Year’s Resolutions are related to living a healthier lifestyle.
However – 6 in 10 people fail to stick to their New Year’s Resolutions, with 12th January being the day when people are most likely to give up on their goals.
But here at BeeZee Bodies we are experts in behaviour change, and know how to support people to make healthy habits that stick. If you’ve attended one of our weight management programmes before, you’ll have heard about ‘the Habit before the habit’ (Hh) – our method for breaking unhealthy habits and changing behaviours for good. First, you need to understand the three roadblocks that most people experience when trying to change an ingrained habit:
1. You’re not as rational as you think.
You know what you need to do to lose weight, so you set rational goals to eat healthily and exercise more. Simple! But when faced with external influences like what people around you are doing, what you have experienced before, how choices are presented to you, and so on… the rational choice goes out the window and instead you make decisions influenced by the world around you (especially the people around you!).
Being aware of these external factors is the first step to making plans to avoid their influence, but don’t underestimate just how much you are operating out of habit and routine.
2. The planning self vs. The doing self.
You have two selves. The rational planning self and the irrational doing self… and they often don’t get on very well when it comes to making healthy decisions.
The Planning Self decides to wake up early and get some exercise. The Planning Self sets the alarm for 5am with very best intentions and is sure you will wake up fired up and ready to go!
The Doing Self gets rudely awoken by the 5am alarm. The Doing Self doesn’t want to leave your warm bed, find your kit and exercise. The ‘Snooze’ button is a much easier and more appealing option in that moment!
Sound familiar? It’s human nature to underestimate the factors that will throw you off course and prevent you from reaching your goals, but it’s important to think realistically about what might stand in your way and plan to overcome them.
Tell the Planning Self to put your alarm on the other side of your bedroom, with your gym kit laid out next to it, to make it easier for The Doing Self to actually follow through with the plan! The real question is: ‘how will you remember to do that?’
3. The ‘What the Hell’ effect.
Because we expect to achieve our ‘rational goals’ set out by our ‘planning self’, it can come as quite a surprise when our ‘doing self’ fails to meet our own expectations. If you set a goal of not eating cakes at work, but then find everyone around you eating cakes for someone’s birthday, you might be tempted to eat just a mouthful, then maybe a half…and then you can’t just leave half a cake sat there! Very quickly your compromise of one mouthful of cake can lead to what we call the ‘What the Hell effect’.
You think ‘oh, what the hell’, continue to make unhealthy choices for the rest of the day (including a take away on the way home!) and tell yourself that you’ll start again tomorrow because you’ve already failed today.
Sometimes tomorrow is a new day and sometimes tomorrow never comes! This is a slippery slope towards giving up on the behaviour you were changing.
This answer is simple, but not easy. It will likely require multiple attempts to change just one behaviour, but can be the difference between making lasting change and giving up.
The mantra “Experiment, Fail, Learn, Repeat” is useful to understand how to run an experiment and gradually create a plan that works.
Experiment – Identify the steps you need to take to reach your goal (like going for a morning walk) and think about the things that might trip you up (hitting the snooze button). Make a plan to overcome these potential failure points (put your alarm on the other side of the room so you can’t hit snooze). Be harsh… it is surprising how even the smallest bump in the road can throw a whole plan out of the window.
Fail – Although some parts of your experiment might get you closer to your goal (you got out of bed to switch off the alarm! Result!), there will be some parts that don’t work (maybe it’s raining so you get back into bed). But that’s OK…. it was just an experiment, you can’t predict everything. If you find that you are being overly harsh to yourself, just answer this question: “if your best friend made the same mistake, would you be as harsh to them?” Cut yourself some slack and acknowledge you are only human!
Learn – Identify the things that tripped you up last time, and put measures in place for a more successful outcome (maybe have a yoga DVD handy to stick on if it’s too wet and cold for a walk!).
Repeat – Make a slight change to your plan and re-run the experiment again. Repeat until you have achieved your goal and created a healthy habit.
But by going through the planning and failing process, you better understand how you really behave in situations that currently get in the way of your efforts to change. It takes time, but it works and it’s sustainable. You simply have to change your mindset from one of ‘all or nothing’, to running the experiment and working out the habits that drive the behaviour that you ultimately want to change – the Habit before the habit.
If you made it your New Years Resolution to make some healthy changes to your lifestyle – we’re here to support you. Get in touch to find a weight management course in your area.