By AMELIA JADE
For self enrichment in the upcoming new year, many set new year resolutions. However, sometimes people find it hard to follow through.
Assoc Prof Peter Bragge says that “the New Year is a great time to make plans to improve our lives”. The professor is from BehaviourWorks Australia, a research enterprise within Monash University’s Sustainable Development Institute,
The experienced physiotherapist who holds a Melbourne University PhD specialises in knowledge transition and behaviour change, and has held local and international workshops.
He shares with Star2.com some valuable insights on maximising one’s resolutions for a better 2019.
As you reflect on the past year, you may feel the time is right to break existing bad habits. Although you’re aware bad habits bring negative consequences, it may still be a struggle to overcome them.
According to Prof Bragge, a habit is an “automatic” behaviour repeated in a stable context. Since we don’t give much thought to these automatic habitual behaviours, knowledge and motivation may not be sufficient. We have to build a better habit in place of that old one.
For instance, to break the bad habit of eating fast food three times a day, we can strive to eat a balanced diet. However, sometimes these new habits may not “stick” as the new behaviour has not been repeated enough in a stable environment to become a true “habit”.
Prof Bragge says: “Starting a new behaviour based on knowledge or short term rewards won’t persist over time.”
What’s more, unrealistic goals that seem “impossible” to attain may cause us to give up easily.
“Achievable, shorter term goals that are reset once achieved will help maintain motivation through a sense of achievement.”
Prof Bragge lists down three key elements to habit formation proven by research – repetition, stable cues and unpredictable rewards.
There is no set formula for how many times an action needs to be repeated before becoming a habit as it varies according to the behaviour. For example, making regular gym workouts a habit requires five to six weeks of repetition based on research. Hence, we must commit to repeating the healthy behaviour many times.
Research shows that using predictable and stable context cues are associated with successful habit formation. Time and location are examples of stable cues. Supposing your resolution is to eat healthier, you could commit to eating a piece of fruit at 8am before breakfast or when you arrive at your workplace.
Unpredictable rewards are more effective than predictable ones (the reason poker machines are so addictive). You can start with predictable rewards, like “if I eat a banana five times in a week I’ll treat myself to a muffin”, but for the long run it’s best to make rewards unpredictable. You can ask a friend, family member or work colleague to check on you every few weeks and reward you if you stuck with with your new habit. Rewards don’t need to be of high value to be meaningful.
If you’re starting a new health habit, Prof Bragge also recommends getting a check-up with a doctor to discuss plans and ensure you’re not at risk of harm.
Set healthy and realistic goals. Make behaviours long term habits and involve your loved ones in your journey. Prof Bragge also stresses that, during setbacks, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself.
“Remember, breaking and making habits is difficult so it’s not the end of the world if you miss a few gym sessions or forget to eat fruit once in a while.”