Research backed evidence on how to make change stick

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  • April 15, 2014
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If 88% of the people end up breaking their new year’s resolution, what is it the 12% do and what can we learn from them? A study of 3,000 people led by Richard Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire, found that 88% broke their resolutions. Even people who resolved merely to “enjoy life more” failed 68% of the time!!! 🙁

So we are going to look at the bright spots and more on that

The following post is adapted from Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch, making change easy

1. Focus on what works even if it’s in the minority – Your bright spots.

Psychologists tell us that we are wired to look at the negative. One famous study concluded that, when it comes to the way we think, “Bad is stronger than good.” So when it comes to changing our lives, we’ll tend to ask ourselves, “What’s the problem and how do I fix it?” But often we can benefit more by asking a different question: “What’s working and how can I do more of it?” In other words, we can learn from our own “bright spots.”

Nwokedi Idika, an American graduate student in computer science, was a chronic procrastinator. He’d set a goal to work six hours per day on his thesis but found that he only hit the target sporadically. Rather than bemoan his failures, though, he examined his bright spots: What is different about the days when I do manage to complete my six hours? And what he discovered was that, in almost every case, he’d been working early in the morning. So he turned that realization into a strategy: He started setting his alarm for 5:30am every morning.

The early-morning approach worked like a charm. He did not get lost in social media as no one was up. He defeated procrastination by cloning his bright spots. (Idika became the first African-American student to earn a PhD in computer science at his university.)

2. Don’t beat yourself into a will power battle – Make one change at a time.

Ever wondered why Alan Carr’s practice on Easyway to quit smoking does not rely on will power. The thousands who have succeeded have done so less by resisting smoke and more by generating in themselves what it feels and tastes like when you smoke, thereby understanding that it’s not that special and that it’s a confidence trick that the mind plays.

Over the last 15 years, a series of studies in psychology has confirmed a sobering result: Our self-control is exhaustible. The research shows that we burn self-control in many different situations: when controlling our spending; holding in our emotions; managing the impression we’re making on others; resisting temptations; coping with fears; and many, many others.

Why is this important? Because any life change will require careful self-monitoring and self-regulation—in other words, self-control. Self-control is the fuel that allows change to succeed, but it is limited. For that reason, you will have a better chance of success if you can focus on one change at a time. If you try to change jobs and exercise routines and relationship habits all at once, you are more likely to stall, because you’ve run out of “fuel.”

3. Routines are crucial – Turn that one change into a habit.

Routines make change into habits. Its business as usual and much harder to reverse.

Steve Gladdis of London found that he was constantly falling behind on his personal “to do” list. “Looking at the list on my phone now,” he said, “I need to hang those pictures, phone a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while, extract that box from the back of the shed, investigate child-friendly mousetraps, the list really does go on and on.”

He resolved to create a daily routine: Every morning, like clockwork, he’d finish one task. “Once I’m on a roll, it seems easy to carry on. I remember to look at my list for today’s task because I’m used to doing it, and I almost look forward to ticking off that day’s chore,” he said.

Habits are effective because, once established, they no longer burn self-control. (Think about how little mental energy it requires to take a shower, or make your morning coffee, or to carry out any of the other habits you’ve acquired.) You’ll be more likely to keep your resolution if you can turn it into a habitual behaviour—something that happens in the same time and place on a regular cycle.

4. Set an “action trigger” to start your habit ASAP.

S.J Scott in his book 23 Anti procrastination habits discuses routines to avoid procrastination. Mason Curey has written a whole book about how famous people thrived on Daily Rituals.

So how do you kick start them? That’s the best way to start a habit?

Let’s say you’re trying to exercise more. You might declare to yourself: Tomorrow morning, right after I drop off Elizabeth at dance class, I’ll head straight to the gym for my workout. Let’s call this mental plan an “action trigger.” You’ve made the decision to follow a certain plan (exercising) when you encounter a certain trigger (the school’s front entrance, tomorrow morning).

Action triggers like these can be surprisingly effective in motivating action. Psychologists have compared action triggers to “instant habits” because what they do, in essence, is make our behaviour automatic when the trigger moment comes. Seize that power for yourself: Jump-start a new habit by setting an action trigger.

Josh Kaufmann uses the term scaffolding, your rituals that get the habit started in the day.

Viren Lall is a business transformation expert, an entrepreneurship instructor, and an adjunct professor of management at a leading business school. He has been involved with startups since the 1990s and delivers entrepreneurship boot camps and continuous venture development programmes for startups. He is a key note speaker on succeeding in transformational change and entrepreneurial ventures.

- Viren Lall, London