Improving our diet, getting fit, spending less and quitting smoking are common New Year’s resolution goals for many. But successfully changing the habits associated with these actions can be tricky.
Gretchen Rubin – an ex lawyer and resident of NYC where our Henry Carus grew up – is one of the most thought-provoking and influential writers on habits and happiness. She is also the author of several books, including the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home.
In preparing her new book due out next month and titled Better Than Before, Rubin recently ploughed through the research on habit change to find what it really takes to make a fresh start. What she found was four strategies that are clear-cut, simple to apply and make habit change relatively pain-free.
1. The Strategy of the Clean Slate
The first strategy Rubin identified was The Strategy of the Clean Slate. With any transition – such as a new job, a new relationship, a new house – we get a “clean slate” or a fresh start in that area and new habits can be adopted more easily.
Moving house is a particularly effective time to change habits. You may be struggling to incorporate exercise into your daily routine now, but if a move is planned you could find that the new surroundings are just want you need to inspire you to get out and do that morning jog.
A change in jobs could also see you walking a longer distance from the train to the office, influenced by more healthy eating options at lunchtime and not being encouraged to go out for a mid-morning cigarette with the resident smoker!
2. The Strategy of Monitoring
When we monitor a behavior – such as how much we spend, how far we walk or what food we are eating – we tend to improve our performance and this is what Rubin refers to as The Strategy of Monitoring.
As proof, Rubin quoted a study that showed that dieters who kept a food journal for the majority of the week, lost twice as much weight as people who did so once a week or not at all.
There are some great apps available that can help with monitoring habits. One example is TrackMySPEND by MoneySmart (an initiative of ASIC) – a free app that lets you record all of your expenses and view a summary of the types of things you are spending your money on.
3. The Strategy of Inconvenience
The Strategy of Inconvenience is a very interesting one. It proposes that to change a habit we should make it difficult or inconvenient, because when things are easy we keep doing them.
For example, to stop checking your emails when you get home to your family of a night time, put your phone in a draw the minute you walk in the door. To stop hitting the snooze alarm of a morning, set your alarm clock up on the other side of the room and force yourself to get out of bed to turn it off.
4. The Strategy of Treats
Unlike a reward, a treat is a small pleasure that we give to ourselves just because we want it. After treating ourselves we are more likely to feel energized, cared for and contented and this strengthens our self-control and helps us maintain our healthy habits.
It’s important though that those treats are healthy. You might look at the money you are saving on buying cigarettes and instead invest it in a personal training session, a nice dinner out or a facial.
Habit changing can be incredibly challenging, but by putting some of these strategies in place, you may be surprised at what you can achieve and how you can make positive changes to your life in 2015.