New Year seems to bring out an all-or-nothing approach to improvement. If they are bothering with resolutions at all, most people try to do too much too quickly. Going to the gym five days a week in January is down to five days in total in February. But by March the gyms are empty and very few can be bothered anymore.
A friend of mine sent me a quote on New Year’s Day. ‘My goal for 2017 is to accomplish the goals of 2016, which I should have done in 2015 because I made a promise in 2014 and planned them in 2013.’ Been there, done that!
Most of us have a habit we want to kick. Some of us have habits we don’t even know about. It might be smoking, slurping coffee, pencil chewing, constantly saying ‘innit’ at the end of every sentence, removing shoes at work so you get the smell of gently toasted feet wafting across the office – or one of 100 other really annoying habits.
Research suggests that there is a simple neurological loop at the core of every habit. Every habit is different but the loop remains the same. The loop consists of three parts. The cue, a routine and a reward. Once you can understand what triggers and rewards your habits you will be able to replace your old ones with new routines.
Here are some tips for breaking a bad habit.
- Habits are hard to change because they’re habitual. Once the brain recognises a habit it places it in the “do automatically” category. You do it without thinking and it’s hard to get your brain to re-file it.
- Identify the underlying cause. All habits (good or bad) have a function. For example, we all know that mindless eating can be a way to comfort yourself when you’re feeling down.
- Deal with the real problem and put something positive in the place of the habit you’re trying to change. For example, the habit of nibbling throughout the day might be to satisfy hunger. Stop grazing and instead take 20 minutes to sit and eat lunch.
- Researchers have found that just writing out a goal and keeping it available to look at every day (or as many times as day as you need to) can help you stay on track. Write down your promise to yourself and read it before every meal and at bedtime.
- Get help if you need it. Exercise with a friend if you want to lose weight or get fitter. If the problem is trickier, get professional support. Being accountable to others is a strong incentive to keep on keeping on. By both giving and receiving support, you keep the goal in focus.
- Be patient with yourself and be persistent. Bad habits are hard to break because your brain has put it in the “do automatically” category. Once there, it’s difficult to change. Current research shows that most of us need about three months to substitute a new behaviour for a bad habit. Some people need longer.
- Almost everyone slips up. That’s normal, but it’s not a reason to give up. A slip provides you with information. It tells you what kinds of stressors push you off your good intentions. It tells you what you might need to change in order to stay on track. Think hard about why you slipped and get back on board. Tomorrow is another day.
One New Year’s business resolution that’s worth making is making sure that you only recruit outstanding quality employees for your business. It’s especially hard for small businesses to achieve that – but don’t let that put you off. Get the habit of only employing excellent people.
My new book, Build Your Dream Team , (written especially for SMEs) shows you how. We’re also we’re offering a 15% pre-publication discount.
We deal with the good, the bad and the ugly of HR. If you need help recruiting the best talent or any other HR issues, give us a call on 01908 262628.
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