Ever had one of those moments where you decided you were going to introduce a new behavior? Perhaps it was going to the gym or changing your diet? You have motivation and good intention and you set aside a certain amount of time each morning and begin to just do it and you do. You’re able to pull it off and go 3 or 5 or 11 days uninterrupted. You’re feeling pretty good, happy with yourself and then something happens and your efforts are derailed. The fledgling behavior stops just as quickly as it started. Thing is, that something will ALWAYS happen. This is life.
In order for us to truly ingrain a new behavior, we need to do it with a great amount of frequency, consistency and intensity plus have a state of mind that is more adaptable so that when something gets in the way and disrupts our intentions we can still move forward. If we don’t come up with an overall plan, then it is less likely that the new behavior is going to stick and more likely that we will return to the old behavior due to this behavior being something we have been reinforcing with frequency and consistency such as mindlessly eating sweets or grabbing whatever is nearby us for lunch.
This plan doesn’t need to be something that we absolutely, 100% stick to, since this puts a lot of pressure on us to perform and ultimately will fail. All we truly need to do is commit, and research supports this, to engaging in the new behavior at least 80% of the time. How do we go about doing that? What are the best ways to do this?
Find or create a plan. Here is an example. Several years ago, I was unsure how to truly create a good outline and schedule that I could follow so that my physical activity plans were intermittent at best. Then I stumbled across a book called “ Body for Life” which laid out a challenging but doable approach to altering several aspects of my life that I wanted to change. It lined up with a few of my values.
With this clear plan I was finally able to fully engage myself in the principles of this program. One of the strengths of the program was the idea of pre-planning the night before what I was going to do with the next day in regards to what the workout would be and what I would need to eat. I even went so far as to pre-plan exactly what I would have at each of my meals, what my snacks would be and of course when and what my workout would consist of. The program was also perfect in that it was 12 weeks long which was well past the time investment needed (frequency) to make this new routine an automatic behavior.
While research does show that all we really need to do in order to instill a new behavior is to do something with intent for 28 – 35 days, but if we can go longer, like the 12 weeks utilized in this program, we improve our chances that it will truly stick. Facebook, Instagram and all the different social apps understand this this concept deeply which is why they have so many different ways to keep you engaged like clicking “like” or “love” on posts as well as countless other ways to get you to interact with your friends because, in doing, you create a positive reinforcement loop. This increases your chances of coming back and it obviously works or they wouldn’t do it and they wouldn’t be making the money that they’re making.
You can take this concept used successfully by marketing companies and social platforms like Facebook and use it in other areas of your life by simply investing some time to sit down, take about a half an hour on a sheet of paper or in filling in the individual aspects of a pre-made program or application (there are plenty of them out there) which will keep you focused on increasing your consistency, frequency and intensity.
Remember, don’t completely get overwhelmed by the time commitment, but be willing to commit to showing up every single day for 30, 60, or 90 days with the intention of meeting at least 80% of the goals that are within your plan. What will your breakfast look like every single day for the next 30 days? Write this down and plan ahead so that when you wake up in the morning and you’re groggy and following your older automatic plan that you have a reminder sitting out on the table or taped to your refrigerator so that you offer yourself the clarity of a carefully laid plan.
If you don’t have a plan you might just grab whatever is there but if you have a plan it’s less likely that you will do the older behaviors, you will not drift away from your main objective. You most certainly utilize this in other areas of your life and if you don’t, well then here’s a concept that you can generalize to your workplace academics, your research, your play, and your relationships. It can be used across the board.
Another advantage to coming up with this plan is that it allows your time to figure out what you will need for the whole week so that at the beginning of each week you have more clarity in what you will need when you go to the grocery store so that you get exactly what you need in order to make this plan happen.
If we can get all of these things in place, if you have your plan, whether it’s applied to diet, physical activity, a work project, trying to write a book or some other activity and we can achieve our goals 80% of the time – you will reach your goals. There is tons of evidence to back this up. Having such a plan and committing to it also helps to override those times when you don’t feel like engaging. You will see your plan, know what you need to do to move forward and you will take the small micro-steps needed. Before you know it you’ll have that new behavior and you won’t have drifted off course.
Want to reinforce these efforts further? Consider taking the time to dig deeply into your values, the aspects of your life in which you are most inspired by and help to define what is truly most important to you. In this case, when it comes to physical activity and nutrition, the value would be something like vitality, longevity, or strength. In times when you’re faced with very real physical sensations of low energy or apathy, these values will provide you the motivation needed to keep moving forward.