Resolutions for Change That Last All Year: Part 2: Making the Change

by | Jan 4, 2017 | Retirement, Stories, Uncategorized

Behavior change

            Permanent change in habits is possible with the right strategy.

In Part 1 of our series, Resolutions for Change That Last All Year, we focused on how to decide on habits or behaviors to change. In Part 2, we will concentrate on strategies to help you make the change.

Getting “Unstuck” in the Process of Change

You may know what you want to change, and you may even know how to change it. But are you clear on why you’re making this change? Why does it matter to you? Even if you have a “why,” is it personal enough to motivate you? How much do you want to do it? Do you feel confident that you can be successful?

An article by Harvard Men’s Health Watch says, “One common reason people do not succeed in making lasting change is that they don’t first create a solid foundation” that includes the importance they place on the change and their confidence in achieving it. Understanding your own motivation and confidence is necessary before you can start changing a behavior.

The article provides a “Readiness to Change” chart that allows you to measure whether you’re ready to make a change. By rating your motivation and confidence levels, you’ll have a reasonable idea of whether you’re ready to move toward change. Margaret Moore, co-director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, says a score of at least 6 for both motivation and confidence signals readiness.

If your motivation and confidence levels aren’t high enough, you may want to choose a different behavior or habit first. For example, if you’re not ready to quit smoking entirely, Harvard Men’s Health Watch says, you might start by cutting back on your cigarette consumption.

Once you know whether you’re ready for change, it’s time to consider the three Rs: reminder, routine and reward:

Reminder: What prompts you to begin the behavior

Routine: What you typically do in response to the reminder or prompt

Reward: What you get from engaging in the behavior

Harvard Men’s Health Watch gives the example of eating junk food routinely while watching a favorite TV show. It’s close to the start time of your show (reminder), so you go to the kitchen and get your snacks (routine). You enjoy eating your snacks during the show, so your behavior is reinforced (reward). The goal is to break the habit, so understanding how the reminder and routine work together is key.

When the reminder kicks in, give serious thought to how you’re feeling. What’s underlying your desire to begin the routine? It could be location, time, how you feel, other people around you or what’s happening just before the routine would normally begin. Spend a few days journaling to increase your awareness about the reminder and the routine, what you’re feeling and what you’re observing about your tendencies and what’s drawing you toward the routine. When you understand what’s behind the routine and how the reminder is serving as a prompt, you’ll be in a better position to change the behavior. You can choose to replace the routine with a different strategy. And that strategy might not be eliminating snacks while you watch TV. It might be eating a healthier snack instead or spending time on a different activity.

For my student Natalie, it was crucial that she understood what was prompting her to reach for her phone after dinner each evening. Once she understood the reminder (dinner was over and she had free time at home), she could consider how the phone routine developed. The ever-present phone was convenient, and once she grabbed it, the reward kicked in. The reward (enjoying her free time) was reinforcing the phone routine. She recognized that the phone routine was a barrier to involvement with her family. Her strategy of changing the phone’s presence made it less convenient, which helped her break the routine. She also found another activity (board games) that not only was enjoyable but supported her goal and established a different routine. Her family’s attitude toward the change also was favorable, which increased the reward for the new routine.

If At First You Don’t Succeed

When we work on changing behavior, it’s important to be patient with ourselves. Change might not happen quickly or easily no matter how necessary we think it might be. Identifying what’s prompting a routine or habit is an important step, and it may take a few tries to find a strategy that is effective in changing the behavior. If your first strategy doesn’t work, take time to reexamine the three Rs. Maybe the reminder and routine are working differently than you initially thought. Then you can brainstorm other strategies that might be effective. Strategies work differently for everyone, so it’s important to find a combination that works right just for you.

One last word: It might sound cliché, but the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” really applies when it comes to changing a habit. The only failure is in not trying. If you have a bad day and find you’ve returned to a habit or routine out of comfort, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Tomorrow is always another day. What you do today has no bearing on the possibilities that tomorrow could bring.

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