80% of people who make New Year’s resolutions fail, year after year. If a catastrophic pandemic year could have taught us anything, it is precisely that reality spoils our best intentions.
New Year’s resolutions are usually raised as big goals that will change our lives, and that is precisely the problem, that they are big. Perhaps it is time to face the new year with more humility.RELATED
The purpose is to lose ten kilos, but the second week of February you stop going to the gym. The purpose is to learn English, but in a few weeks you stop earning points on Duolingo. The purpose is to eat better but, well, a little roscón doesn’t hurt, and we haven’t come to this world to suffer either.
It is often said that the objectives must be specific, measurable, affordable, realistic and limited in time (forming the acronym SMART in English). From this follows the general rule that purposes are of little use without a plan to execute them. Goals are easier to achieve if we have a plan to reach them.
But why not look at the problem differently? Rather than setting ambitious goals and detailed plans, James Clear, author of “Atomic habits“advocates generating hundreds of small changes (atoms of change) that push us little by little in the direction we want to go.
For example, going for an hour run every day can be a huge challenge. Our brain automatically makes a prediction of how we will feel doing it, and decides that the physical effort or pain is not worth it. This is called “friction.”
Instead, you can execute a small action, that does not produce friction, but to do it in a constant way. These minimal changes obey the one percent rule. If we change one percent every day, by the end of the year we will have 38 times more than what we have started to do.
For example, if we start walking for only five minutes on the first day, and on the second day we add 1% more time, that is, three seconds, and so on, at the end of the year we will be walking more than three hours in a row.
Although the goal of walking three hours a day is not desirable for everyone, and the changes are not always linear, it serves to illustrate how these minute changes add up over time. It does not matter if they are pages read from a book, improve the time of our race or lift a few more kilos in the gym.
In addition to eliminating friction in our head, it is also convenient to eliminate external friction. Changes in people do not occur in a vacuum, but are greatly influenced by their environment. Quitting smoking if you live surrounded by smokers is a daunting task. Eating healthy with a refrigerator full of junk food, or going to a gym that is too far away are examples of circumstances that make it very difficult for us to change.
On the contrary, choosing a gym close to home or work, stopping buying unhealthy foods, or surrounding yourself with people who have the habits we want for ourselves are ways to get external factors to work in our favor.
The health psychology researchers from University College London propose a series of steps in this direction so that patients can acquire healthy habits:
An example might be doing push-ups. You choose a place in the house (for example the kitchen) and each time you enter it before breakfast you do a push-up, or several. The association between the place, the moment and the action creates the habit.
It’s more effective to do two push-ups every day than to aim for ten and quit in the first month. Actions are more important, results, and progress is more important than perfection. Something to apply to the year that begins.
A contingent approach to planning: planning with and without objectives
In some situations where planning is important it is difficult or impossible to set objectives, and conventional descriptions of planning do not work. In fact, many managers find that the most important part of planning takes place without explicitly considering concrete plans.
Why is it so difficult to change health-related behavior?
Current public health policy emphasizes the possibility that small cumulative changes in individual behavior produce significant advances in the health of the population. The Behavioral Instruction Team or “Nudge Unit” advocates for changes in health behavior through the manipulation of small environmental cues.
Making Health Habitual: The Psychology of “Habit Formation” and General Practice
We propose that a simple tip on how to turn healthy actions into habits – automatic responses of external origin to frequent contexts – offers a useful option in the behavior change toolkit