Habits or Resolutions
Which will you cultivate in 2023?
Have you ever made a resolution only to find it falls by the wayside before January is out? Or maybe you are someone who makes and sticks to your resolutions every year; what’s the secret of your success? Whether it’s going to the gym, losing weight, being nice to a difficult friend, why don’t resolutions tend to work for most of us and how do we turn the resolve into a habitual behaviour?
One of the flaws of resolutions is that they are outcome-based: lose weight, be nicer etc. These outcomes have 2 errors:
Firstly, the outcome itself. When we focus on a result we may not really know how to get there. The athletes that we work with at Chimp Management have an outcome in mind but there are no guarantees of achieving this. If the athlete doesn’t have a sound, measurable process in place, very soon they’ll prod their Chimps into making its own assessment of success: ‘Have we reached the outcome yet?’ ‘No’, ‘Let’s Give up then!’
‘Is this working – No – then we’ll change course or, even better, revert to old habits’
A Chimp’s way of judging is to ask ‘Does this work?’ If the answer is affirmative, we will do it more, but if it’s negative, we’ll stop. So we need to give the Chimp something measurable to assess. If we start with process and add in small, daily, measurable steps, we will reassure our whole system and work together. The Chimp has fantastic drive and motivation but it’s the Human’s job to get it on board with the Human-led plan. When you get to know your personal Chimp and its unique Drives, you can tap into its energy eg with a strong ego drive, I can harness this power by reframing my new habit as showing the world that we are a driven person, we’ll look good. Now we have both motivation, commitment and small steps to measure, steps which are under our control and more reliable than simply an outcome. Now ‘be nice to a difficult friend’ becomes, ‘every week reach out in some way to your old friend and this will help to show the world that we can grow and learn’ and has measurable steps: Week 1, send a text, week 2, call etc. As time goes by and with practice, the new neural connections will grow and be reinforced and I will form a habit.
A final, important part of the process is to reflect on the small achievements, notice the progress and, again, we will reinforce the pathways in our brains.
The second reason that resolutions typically don’t work is that we don’t look at what has been holding us back, looking at what is in our Computer and which Gremlins may be lurking: what is your belief about your friend, what do you believe about yourself and exercise or weight? Once we find any lurking unhelpful responses, we can start to ‘FIND + REPLACE’, Gremlins for Autopilots.
‘That friend always talks about themselves, people should listen and ask about others first’ transforms into, (for me), ‘People are all different, maybe I’ll learn something from them and at the end of the day, their friendship is worth it for me’. My Chimp is settled by the new Autopilot in my Computer.
Your Chimp will want guarantees that any new habit will ‘work’. So, help it by defining what ‘working’ means for you and by reminding it that nothing is guaranteed in life. To further settle the machine, a reminder of what you, the Human, wants: what am I focussing on, how do I want to do this? These simple questions every morning will begin to build your skill of taking the lead: Human-led, Chimp-friendly.
Re-Writing your brain pathways
Chemically, to build a habit, we want to activate the reward pathways in the brain, releasing dopamine. This neurotransmitter brings pleasure and reinforces behaviours. We can stimulate the pathway even through imagination and so imagining what you want is a very helpful practice. The contrary is also true, if we focus on things we don’t want, we won’t have that dopamine flush and instead just a habitual response of a mere behaviour or thought. Imagine saying the following things:
‘I want to get out of bed and start my adventure in life today’
‘I’ve got to get up now’
Did you feel the difference?
So, form a habit, not a resolution, by:
- Deciding what you want (eg to be fitter and healthier than I currently am)
- Break it down into measurable, small steps (eg eat from smaller plate)
- Give affirmative words towards what you are doing at a given point of your procedure (eg I am working towards getting and feeling fit)
- Reassure your Chimp that you’re learning it and doing your best (There are no guarantees in life!)
- Build new pathways in your brain through daily practice and imagination. Start your day with Development Time of how you want to reinforce your habit today and reflect on progress at the end of the day.
Finally, repeat, repeat, repeat.
Like all of the work we do and skills we build, any new habit will take practice but how will it feel as you go for it!?
Happy New Year.
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