Change How You Think About Change
by Tammera J. Karr, PhD
Every year I have clients tell me they made a New Years’ resolution to eat better, lose weight, and exercise more. And like clockwork, there’s, and my resolutions are so far down on the priority list by February that there is no motivation to drag them to the top again. Why does this happen – is it we are weak in caricature, deficient, bad people?
It turns out we have been trying to initiate change in our lives under a faulty premise. I have said for years the best way to help a client is “To Not set them up for failure” by asking them to change too much at once. The Stanford Behavioral Health Lab had to work with 40,000 clients to learn the same thing.
Think back on all the things you have learned and accomplished in your life. You didn’t learn or do it all at once; some things took practice, familiarity, and confidence others you wonder how in the world did I get through that? We often time hear the phrase “take baby steps.”
The Stanford University Behavior Research Lab has found a painful gap between the changes people want and what they actually do. For the most part, we tend to blame ourselves for not being willing to work hard enough to adopt new habits. Behavior research shows, to be effective, change doesn’t have to be hard at all—and shouldn’t be. Tiny adjustments that come easily and make us happy are the ones that work best. It’s our approach to self-improvement that needs to change.
According to behavior researcher BJ Fogg, PhD., “It turns out that there is a formula for any successful shift in behavior. This applies to everything from flossing your teeth to running a marathon. To instill a habit, the first thing you need is motivation: Pick a behavior that you want to do rather than one you merely feel obligated to do. Second, you need to be able to do it: Make the change simple and small at first. Third, you need a personal prompt: Identify a way to reliably trigger the behavior. Finally, you need to celebrate your new habit, so that your brain associates it with positive feelings”.
First, don’t think you have to create motivation. Choose habits that you already are eager to adopt.
Second, go tiny. Why? Small is successful and sustainable because it is simpler.
Third, design a prompt.
We respond almost automatically to hundreds of behavior prompts each day (for instance, when you feel a few drops of rain on your arm, you open your umbrella); no behavior happens without some kind of prompt.
Here is an example: I was talking to a client about their InstaPot. For two years, it had been in a box on the counter – never opened. The whole idea of a pressure pot, something they had no experience with, created anxiety and procrastination. This client with a high-stress job in healthcare had to change from the regular pot or pan to using this appliance in small steps; they had no frame of reference for using a pressure pot, or canning, these where different tools with a foreign language. It wasn’t about motivation. It was the uncertainty over doing something for the first time that made the roadblock.
“It isn’t primarily repetition over a long period that creates habits; it’s the emotion that you attach to them from the start.”
So, while we were on the phone, with my experience with pressure canning, she opened the box and put it to work. Was it a complete success? No, but it wasn’t a failure either. The InstaPot was no longer a boogie man waiting to blow up; it was easy to operate, clean and convenient. Now she is willing to try again and keep trying until her comfort level becomes second nature. Because I was on the phone with her, she felt like she had help, and we made it fun, less stressful. We celebrate her tiny victory by treating the next step like a detective story, reading researching and watching videos while comparing notes.
To making tiny sustainable proactive changes for our health.
On the Journey to New Habits, Take Tiny Steps: New Year’s resolutions fail because people aim too high and get discouraged quickly. Instead, celebrate small accomplishments. – https://www.wsj.com/articles/on-the-journey-to-new-habits-take-tiny-steps-11577985523?emailToken=e941c82b2acd54635b41bfbf06c38a11NOmjXHECRogTse0J4ZgD2L+35NukdsYmUhsbsU/3e4Tm7ywSen9rB6QVPgyd3YAxHyqDeWmBcxbkjdRFYSfNnqxdGFN4+hKSb3gD6NiuFsw%3D&reflink=article_email_share
“Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything,” by BJ Fogg, Ph.D. 2020, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt