Have you already set your New Year’s resolutions? How sure are you that you’ll be able to accomplish them? Do you want to get in better shape, develop in your profession, or acquire a new skill…? You’ve probably given it a lot of consideration, set your SMART goals for the new year, developed a strategy, and, given that it’s the start of the year, you’re probably highly motivated.

However, you will need to develop or change some habits and behaviours to reach your objectives. Unfortunately, this is not an easy task; but, it is not impossible either, and we want to help you succeed. 

The main barriers to creating new habits and breaking old ones

habitsBefore we get into the tactics for changing habits and behaviours, it’s important to understand the main roadblocks you’re likely to encounter.

As the saying goes, “knowledge is power”, so the more you know about the potential stumbling blocks you’ll face along the path, the easier it will be to conquer them.

When it comes to changing habits and behaviours, the following are the main roadblocks:

  • Lack of motivation. Motivation is a fantastic method to start something new, but it will eventually wear off, so your strategy can’t rely solely on it.
  • Lack of willpower. We rely on our willpower when we want to make a change, but, as motivation, willpower is a finite resource that isn’t strong enough to help you achieve long-term success.

The science behind habits and how to use them in our favour

There are various ideas, recommendations, and tactics for forming or breaking habits. Still, before we get into them, it’s critical to understand the foundation of it all: how new habits form and how the brain works regarding habits.

Habits are a set of behaviours that are repeated regularly and usually occur unconsciously.

However, habits are neural pathways connections between neurons that get stronger by repetition in our brains. In addition, neuroplasticity is our brains’ ability to create new neural connections, which means we can break old habits and create new ones. 

habitsHabits have 4 key ingredients, cue, behaviour, craving and reward. These four elements constitute the habit loop

  • The cue is the stimulus that triggers the behaviour. 
  • The routine is the behaviour or response we execute in response to the cue. 
  • The reward is the positive outcome we receive when performing the behaviour. 
  • The craving is the Reward Anticipation Signal generated by our brain in response to the cue and in anticipation of the expected reward.

How to use science to change our habits

To help you establish or modify the habits you need to achieve your goals, we’ve gathered several theories and advice related to the different aspects of the habit loop and habit formation in the brain.

1. The nudge theory

Because habits are essentially a response to a cue, changing the cue or making it more difficult is one strategy to change our habits.

“A nudge is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.”

Nudge Theory is founded on the premise that by influencing the environment, also known as choice architecture, one can impact the likelihood that individuals will choose one option over another.

Companies that promote exercise by making stair access simpler while hiding elevators are an example of this. This is also why numerous marketing efforts are created and how supermarkets organise their shelves.

We can make the cue appear more evident or more difficult to notice.

2. Use positive reinforcement 

We’ve discussed rewards, which are the primary motivation for our brains to form certain neural connections. When planning your rewards, bear in mind a few things.

  • They must be given during or immediately after the behaviour is performed. So, while being healthy in a year is a fantastic long-term reward, it isn’t enough to form habits.
  • They can be connected to our emotions. Positive emotions are a reward for our brains. This is what the celebration method is based upon. Every time we complete the desired behaviour, we celebrate it, which in turn generates a positive emotion.

3. Use the habit stacking method

We all have habits or neural connections that are highly engraved in our brains, so why don’t we use them to create new ones? This is why many tips out there talk about pairing your new desired habit to an old one. It’s easier for our brains to bring a small change to an already existing connection than to create a whole new one altogether. 

When using habit stacking is better to keep the add-on small. It may take you longer to achieve the desired results, but it increases your chances of success. 

4. Use Functional Imagery Training (FIT) 

We’ve mentioned before that motivation is important when starting a new habit, but it’s challenging to maintain. There is a better way to keep motivation, Functional Imagery Training (FIT)

FIT is a new brief motivational intervention based on the Elaborated Intrusion theory of desire. FIT trains the habitual use of personalised, affective, goal-directed mental imagery to plan behaviours, anticipate obstacles, and mentally try out solutions from previous successes.

You can watch one FIT session here

The Optimist View…

Developing new habits or behaviours, modifying old ones, or even breaking them all together is difficult. However, at Optimist Performance, we believe that we can accomplish everything we set out minds to if we have the correct information and tools. 

Nonetheless, we recognise that any change needs effort on our part. Therefore we must be willing to put forth the effort. Furthermore, even if we are willing to perform the task, we may not know where to begin or how to proceed, but this is where we can help.

Are you ready? If you have set yourself up to achieve your goals this new year but want some reassurance or help to get there, get in touch with us and find out how our executive coaching can help you succeed in 2022.