When it comes to making changes to our behaviour, we all start off with the best intentions.
The problem is, just thinking something is a good idea and promising you’ll do it, has very little relationship with whether you do it.
New Year's resolutions are the perfect example. Studies show that more than 80 per cent of people fail to follow through with their good intentions by the end of January.
A big reason this happens is because, as humans, we're often overly optimistic. We don't like to think about what could go wrong, and this means we fail to plan ahead.
'If Then' planning is a technique to help you keep on track. You think about things that could take you off track and make plans for how you’ll handle them.
If Then plans cue your brain to focus on your goals and how you're going to get yourself there. This means you’re more likely to succeed.
Here's a few more examples of If Then plans in action.
- Getting active: If I miss my morning walk before work, then I will go for a 30-minute walk at lunch time instead.
- Healthier food choices: If I'm at a restaurant on a weeknight, then I will order a hot drink instead of a dessert.
Get social support
You don’t have to do it alone. Think about who can provide additional support. You can do this in several ways; for example, if your goal is to train for a walk to 5km, you might:
- run with someone else
- join a running group
- track your runs and share them with others
- talk to others about your training and how it’s going
These activities help create a sense of accountability. Committing to your goal publicly can help boost your motivation to keep running. You will start to see yourself as someone who runs. And this change in self-identity makes it easier for you to keep up the behaviour.
Prompts, cues and reminders
Set reminders in your calendar or phone. For example, if you want to do five minutes of meditation and calming breathing each morning, set a reminder. Put it as a recurring appointment in your phone or even on a post-it note somewhere visible.
Make it fun
Depending on what your goal is, it may not always feel ‘fun’. But there are things you can do to make your new behaviour more appealing. One idea is to pair a behaviour you feel you ought to be doing with a behaviour you like to do. This is called temptation bundling.
Here are a few examples.
- Goal: to reduce drinking alcohol during the week.
- Make it fun: Get creative with making non-alcoholic drinks fun and special.
- Goal: to increase activity levels by going for a half an hour walk every morning.
- Make it fun: Listen to your favourite podcast – and only listen to it when you’re on your walk.
Think about which tools and techniques you’re going to use to help you keep up with your new behaviour.
Look out for our upcoming articles about:
- what to do if you have a setback
- how to maintain your new goal for long-term success