So, it is February and you have either crushed it in the last month sticking to your new resolutions or you are once again disappointed in your own will power to make the improvements you know you need to make. Lest you think I am judging you; this is the primary reason that I never make New Year’s Resolutions. I would rather think higher of myself than I deserve than wear the cone of shame like a dog who just had surgery.
I am hardest on myself when I can’t form new habits (or break old ones). I fall short of self-loathing, but I come right up to it and stare at its’ ugly reflection, before turning my attention to more immediate matters.
I am very excited to have found the new book by BJ Fogg, Stanford PhD and Behavioral Scientist, who tackles the problem of creating new habits. It is simply titled Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything. In the book he gives step by step methods and lessons to make lasting change if you apply what he has learned about behavior and change.
Most people who make resolutions have given up by February. Many times, there is a flaw in their plan of strictly using their own will power to alter the behavior they have taken a lifetime to create. I have a pretty strong will (stubborn may be more fitting), but even my strong will isn’t enough to change in my ways. I have tried to lose the same ten pounds for the last three years (those of you who have not said anything about it, thank you).
As a behavioral scientist, Fogg knows how people think and act. He understands the patterns that we create and knows how difficult they are to change. A perfect example in the book was his own oral hygiene. He understands intellectually, the benefits of flossing. He is reminded by the hygienist every six months, yet he finds it difficult to do. After his dental appointment he would buy floss. He would place the floss next to his toothbrush and willed himself to remember to floss. It didn’t work.
What he needed was a cue for him to pick up the floss and an easy goal to accomplish. He created a pattern. After he brushed his teeth, he would floss one tooth. Yes, that’s right. One tooth. Changing to this ridiculously simple goal, he began to floss. At first, he committed to one tooth per day. After several days he added more teeth until after several weeks he flossed every single tooth in his head. I know this sounds absurd (because it is) but making it simple and creating a cue to prompt a new behavior are two of the secrets in his book.
Another genius idea in the book is what he calls “pearls.” These are minor daily annoyances that he learned to turn into a benefit. Much like the irritation of sand in an oyster creates a pearl, these irritations can be converted to something beautiful. The example Fogg gives is that his furnace would click and make noises when it turned on, which irritated and annoyed him. He used the cue of the click to consciously relax his neck and shoulders whenever he heard it. This changed everything. Now the annoying click caused him to relax more fully and the anxiety evaporated.
I think there is something to that “pearl” idea that is worth exploring for me. I find so many things annoying: waiting in lines, robo calls, mean people, etc. I just need to set a new behavior to each of these cues to create my own pearl.
If you haven’t kept your resolutions, go easy on yourself. Lower your expectations for grand changes to something more manageable, something as simple as flossing one tooth. This is my new plan. Baby steps to a fitter version of myself.