Every year (even in Lockdown!), many of us capture a spark of motivation and decide to make some resolutions. Perhaps we want to exercise more, eat more healthily, be more productive in completing homework or studying for exams. What tends to happen however, is that the initial motivation for change quickly fizzles out and, after a few days or weeks we’re likely to go back to our old behaviours. Why does changing our behaviour seem so difficult and what can we do to help stay on track with our goals?
Firstly, it’s important to have realistic expectations. A study carried out by Phillippa Lally, Health Psychologist at University College London, showed that it takes between 18 and 254 days before a new behaviour becomes automatic. The time taken can vary widely depending on the behaviour, the person and the circumstances. In other words, realistically it may take anywhere from 2 ½ weeks to 9 months to build a new behaviour into our lives. Change is a slow process, a little like a slow burning fire that needs to be tended constantly. It requires work and the decision to choose what’s best for us rather than what’s easiest. We have to make some commitment to the changes we want to make and with a spirit of patience and perseverance, decide to practise our new behaviours as often and as consistently as possible. Easier said than done!
The one behaviour that is likely to get in the way of making positive changes is ‘avoidance’. It’s also the number one behaviour which keeps anxiety and low mood going. In her wonderful book, ‘Be Extraordinary’, Consultant Clinical Psychologist Jennifer Wild offers some suggestions to help us focus on starting and sustaining a new behaviour. All of the following are based on clinical practice and scientific research findings:
We hope that you find the above techniques outlined in this article helpful. If you practise them consistently and over time, they can effectively challenge your avoidance and help you kick-start any new behaviours you chose to develop over the coming months ahead. Good luck!
10 January 2021