Monday, January 9, 2017

For the New Year Trade In Your Resolutions For Habits



Every year it's the same thing;  a new slate, a new chance at a better us.  We declare a bunch of resolutions;  some probable, some possible and some downright ludicrous.   By March we sorta remember a list somewhere.  By summer we forgot we even made resolutions and by the end of the year we berate ourselves for forgetting all the amazing things we were going to get done in the previous twelve months and start all over again.



I've been thinking about this as I make note of the things I want to achieve this year.  I want to idiot-proof my list so I can look back in December and be happy with my progress.  I looked into some reasons why resolutions fail and found a pretty nice summary in an article posted on Psychology Today's site on December 27, 2010 called Why New Year's Resolutions Fail.   

Summarized, the reasons include a false sense of motivation, unrealistic expectations and a false hope similar to a positive affirmation in which you really don't believe.  The result; failure to resolve.  

"Timothy Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada, says that resolutions are a form of "cultural procrastination," an effort to reinvent oneself. People make resolutions as a way of motivating themselves. Pychyl argues that people aren't ready to change their habits, particularly bad habits, and that accounts for the high failure rate. Another reason, says Dr. Avya Sharma of the Canadian Obesity Network, is that people set unrealistic goals and expectations in their resolutions.

Psychology professor Peter Herman and his colleagues have identified what they call the "false hope syndrome," which means their resolution is significantly unrealistic and out of alignment with their internal view of themselves. This principle reflects that of making positive affirmations. When you make positive affirmations about yourself that you don't really believe, the positive affirmations not only don't work, they can be damaging to your self-esteem.

The other aspect of failed resolutions lies in the cause and effect relationship. You may think that if you lose weight, or reduce your debts, or exercise more, your entire life will change, and when it doesn't, you may get discouraged and then you revert back to old behaviors."
 
It occurred to me that a resolution is just a statement that, if not backed by deliberate meaningful action is really nothing more than a wish.  Instead, I'd like to put forth not the making of resolutions but the forming of habits. 


 Indeed, the article confirmed my thought;
 
"Making resolutions work is essentially changing behaviors and in order to do that, you have to change your thinking and "rewire" your brain.  Brain scientists such as Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux and psychotherapist Stephen Hayes have discovered, through the use of MRIs, that habitual behavior is created by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories, which become the default basis for your behavior when you're faced with a choice or decision. Trying to change that default thinking by "not trying to do it," in effect just strengthens it. Change requires creating new neural pathways from new thinking."

So rather than offering suggestions on how to make better resolutions I'd like to explore a few ideas on how to create lasting habits.  I found lots of articles that are so thick with science that you will fall asleep and drool on your desk, which in itself is a habit.  

Let's take fitness as an example.  I shouldn't have to say this but there is no such thing as an end goal with exercise.  To foster that idea is irresponsible.  We get goals in our heads like a six pack by summer or lose 10 lbs in five weeks.  It suggests a fixed amount of time and effort are required to reach your goal and then you can stop.  Being fit is not something that conforms to a time schedule, it is something that must be permanently incorporated into your life as a matter of routine.  Said another way, you don't ever stop working out, you alter your goals as you progress.  It's that simple.  And so it is with habits, to make a change you must incorporate deliberate action into your daily life - all the time.   

 It has been said that to form a habit it takes 21 days.  I've never believed this as it puts a time limit on the task.  Once your 21 days are up it should be done and no more work is required.  

Entire books have been written on how to form habits.  The internet is bloated with habit-related articles and everyone has a different take on where to start.  You can easily look all this up but allow me to offer a few suggestions to get started.  Remember, we aren't making resolutions as wishes, we are making an effort to make a desired behavior stick for a desired lasting result.  

This is a long slow process that requires planning and effort.  Let's take fitness again.  If you decide you're going to start your gym membership on January 1st with a resolution to go five days a week with no plan other than to lift heavy stuff then gloat over your new rippled abs, you're going to be disappointed.  Soon, the comfy bed, the extra slice of pizza, the more important something-or-other will erode your resolve.  

From a Huffington Post article called:
How Long Does It Actually Take to Form a New Habit? (Backed by Science) dated June 10, 2014:

Have a realistic plan.  On average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. It can take anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit. 

In other words, if you want to set your expectations appropriately, the truth is that it will probably take you anywhere from two months to eight months to build a new behavior into your life — not 21 days.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if you mess up every now and then. Building better habits is not an all-or-nothing process.

Also from this article:
Finding Inspiration in the Long Road: Before you let this dishearten you, let’s talk about three reasons why this research is actually inspiring.  First, there is no reason to get down on yourself if you try something for a few weeks and it doesn’t become a habit. It’s supposed to take longer than that! There is no need to judge yourself if you can’t master a behavior in 21 short days.  Embrace the long, slow walk to greatness and focus on putting in your reps.

Second, you don’t have to be perfect. Making a mistake once or twice has no measurable impact on your long-term habits. This is why you should treat failure like a scientist, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and develop strategies for getting back on track quickly.

And third, embracing longer timelines can help us realize that habits are a process and not an event. All of the “21 Days” hype can make it really easy to think, “Oh, I’ll just do this and it’ll be done.” But habits never work that way. You have to embrace the process. You have to commit to the system.
Understanding this from the beginning makes it easier to manage your expectations and commit to making small, incremental improvements — rather than pressuring yourself into thinking that you have to do it all at once.

How long it takes to form a particular habit doesn’t really matter that much. Whether it takes 50 days or 500 days, you have to put in the work either way. The only way to get to Day 500 is to start with Day 1. So forget about the number and focus on doing the work.

Even though the study only ran for 12 weeks, the researchers were able to use the data to estimate the longer timelines (like 254 days) to form habits. Again, the exact time depends on a variety of factors and isn’t nearly as important as the overall message: Habits can take a long time to form.

What's our takeaway?  If you want lasting changes don't make resolutions, make habits.  


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