Habit Formation: Your New Best Friend

Habit Formation: Your New Best Friend

Are you the kind of person who makes a New Year’s resolution to keep your New Year’s resolutions? Do the best of intentions become distant memories far sooner than you’d like? How would you like to make, and stick to, your well-intentioned resolutions no matter what time of year you make them? While there are no guarantees in life save for death and taxes, there is a promising body of research on habit formation which may help you to successfully adapt your behavior so that your goals become reality, not unmet objectives!

Understanding Habit Formation

Habit formation is the term researchers use to refer to the process that occurs when a new behavior (positive or negative) transforms into an automatic habit. Instinctively reaching for a cigarette after dinner is just as much a habit as is getting on the treadmill as soon as you get home from work. The behaviors we replicate most often are ingrained in the brain’s neural pathways. This means that the more we repeat a behavior, it’s likely it will stick which is one reason why old habits can be so hard to break free from. Nonetheless, longstanding, unhealthy habits can be broken and replaced with newer, more productive ones.

Which is not to say that doing so is an easy task. Imprinting new behavior patterns, regardless of whether the goal is establishing a healthy one or ending a disruptive one, is notoriously hard to achieve without the right tools. Humans are abundantly clever at coming up with reasons for dropping even the most desired ambitions: fatigue, inventive excuses and lack of focus effectively end many goals before they have a chance to blossom.

Making the Changes

So, what’s the key to making changes that last? Repetition is key, as is having the proper motivation.  Habits are nothing more than learned behaviors that have become so routine that we perform them pretty much automatically.  But you don’t have to take my word for it! According to Stanford researcher BJ Fogg, there is a formula that can help one to ditch and/or establish the behaviors they’ve long envisioned for themselves. Fogg outlines his process in the book, Tiny habits: The small changes that change everything, in which he proposes three crucial elements for making lasting behavioral changes: motivation, ability, and a prompt (Tiny habits: The small changes that change everything, 2020).  In general, motivation is the urge to accomplish something. What motivates you? Are you in recovery to be the best you possible? Are you in school to secure a good future? Maybe you want to work so that you can fund a charity or travel?

Your level of ability determines how hard or easy it will be to reach and maintain your behavior change.  According to Fogg, when you are both motivated and able, an environmental prompt or internal cue will prompt your desired behavior. Take the way in which stores routinely ask customers if they would like to donate their change or a certain dollar amount to a charitable cause. In this case the request equals the prompt in Fogg’s equation. Your ability to comply with their request is enabled and magnified when there is a donation box present at the checkout, or the register displays an amount to donate with just one click.

Motivation Makes the Difference

Where does motivation come into the equation? If the charity or cause is one you are interested in or care about you will be motivated to give regardless of your prior intention to give financially that day. Broken down into these simplistic parts, it is easy to see how a behavior can be manipulated, both for altruistic and selfish reasons. For example, when behavior is made easy we need less motivation to perform or engage. Fogg believes that motivation alone is an unreliable ingredient for change because it can fluctuate wildly from one minute to the next. Given this sticking point, what’s the solution? According to Fogg’s theory, keeping the implementation of your new behavior as easy or friction-free as possible means you are more likely to execute it. Speaking to this point, author Roger Dooley, in his book, Friction, uses the example of a playground slide to describe how friction can hinder any type of change. If you’ve ever slid down one of these gravitational wonders, you know that your journey is mostly unencumbered—unless something (e.g. friction) impedes your progress. Negative self-belief and distractions are typical obstacles or sources of friction. Matching your ability with your goal is also a crucial step in the behavior change process. Who doesn’t want to look like a supermodel, have genius smarts, or be known for their good deeds? Sign me up! 

In reality, your ability to control your feelings, thoughts, and actions play a part in your success. To this end, be honest with yourself about your current ability to control these variables as they relate to sticking to a course of action. Being realistic about your current abilities may mean choosing to incrementally decrease a behavior, say eating fast food, versus trying to eliminate it entirely at the get-go. Sticking with this example, one clever cue or prompt you can implement to achieve this behavioral change is putting a symbol of your end goal where you will see it every day. How about sticking an instant pot on the counter for inspiration? Tossing all of your take-out menus can’t hurt either!

Lifelong recovery is possible: all you need to do is reach out. Starbent Recovery was founded on the belief that people suffering from addictive disorders, trauma, and other co-occurring issues can thrive in the right environment. Our professional, dedicated staff have the understanding, experience, and compassion necessary to support each resident’s clinical treatment team goals. We offer individualized tier level programs and guidance with residents’ personal recovery and independent living goals. Our safe, peer residence offers luxury amenities and is located in the heart of upscale Tribeca close to multiple subway lines and surrounded by trendy dining and shopping. To learn more about our premier women’s recovery residence, call us at (800) 673-0176.

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