Set off change by understanding what drives habits

As we approach the end of the year and get ready for the holiday and party season ahead, some of us are also peeping round the corner into 2014 and thinking about what the year will be like. With this often comes a sense of purpose to make it even better than the year that’s passed. We contemplate changes and challenges and ahead and reflect on what needs to happen to make these things possible and this may well bring up realisation that tweaking our routines might produce better outcomes and bring us closer to our goals.

“Tweaking a routine” may sound simple and I use this term deliberately and the alternative of “breaking habits” can be very off putting for many of us. Having delved into this area in some detail while preparing our Level 3 program, I am becoming familiar with much of the research that has been done on the topic and am reminded of why people need support to create new lifestyle habits – it’s very difficult to get rid of the old ones! Knowledge is strength. 

Here are some some of the interesting tidbits I have discovered in the area of habit change:

  • We love routine as we can perform automatically without having to make a decision.  We are “cognitive misers” and like to save our mental resources for things other than driving to work or deciding what clothes to wear.  
  • We respond more to environments and situations (in our habitual behavior) than we do to say, hunger or satisfaction with a product or service.  In other ways it is easier to change behavioural habits if we change our environment or daily situation.  
  • Making a change in our life can lead to a series of other changes – often because of the above. Eg. Changing our job, or giving up smoking when we go on holiday.
  • We need change to keep stimulated and maintain healthy brains but habits provide safety and reassurance that we crave.  There is tension between these two drives.
  • To change a habit, we need to develop a “competing response” – ie do something else when the cue arises.  

These are just a few of the factors that will influence the way we live our lives! So when you make that new years resolution, don’t be too hard on yourself if it lasts a few days. Think of it as a trial run and make a better plan for the next time you attempt to make a change.