The Best Intentions…

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, health and wellness often top the list for U.S. consumers, including Baby Boomers and older adults.  In fact, “staying fit and healthy” is frequently our #1 declaration in January.  And coming off a year like 2020, physical and mental wellbeing are definitely uppermost in everyone’s thoughts.

We’re all aware of the importance of healthy habits, but not so good at changing behaviors over the long haul.  Unfortunately, folks in their 20s are more than twice as likely to achieve their goals as individuals past 50.  But more than half of all people discard their resolutions within six months.

So let’s stop thinking about resolutions, and think instead about habits that we’re finally ready to change!

The Science of Behavior Change

It turns out our brains are wired to avoid change.  While it’s fairly complex, the bottom line is that the part of the brain where an old, engrained habit resides always wins over the area trying to form the new behavior. And because more than 40 percent of our daily behaviors are done habitually, it takes a consistent plan to make lasting changes.

What You Can Do

Here are two proven methods to help bring your best you forward in 2021:

  1. Stacking is an easy way to establish a new habit.

You do it by linking the new behavior to an existing one. The theory is that your brain is already wired to do certain tasks every day. If you stack a new behavior onto a well-established routine, you’re much more likely to accomplish it.

The keys to successful stacking include:

  • Start by making a list of your existing routines, for example, brushing your teeth in the morning and evening, making coffee each day, or checking your email.
  • Next, be specific and look for a “stack” that makes sense. For example, I’ll drink 8 ounces of water every time I check my email, or I’ll take a fifteen-minute walk after doing the dishes.
  • Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many behaviors.

2)  Changing your behavior breaks an important feedback loop.

One behavioral scientist recommends looking at the cue-behavior-reward loop. The cue is an environmental or internal trigger that causes us to learn a behavior. The behavior is the actual routine or “habit.” The reward or incentive is what promotes some kind of pleasure to make a behavior recur.

Because of the way our brains are wired, the article urges readers to change the behavior, not the cue or reward. For example, let’s say you watch your grandchildren one night every week. Each time they come over, you go out for ice cream—your rational side knows it’s not particularly healthy for anybody, but your emotional side knows it’ll taste great and make the little ones happy!

Instead of changing the cue (you love having the kids come over) or the reward (you all want to feel good), change the behavior. Find another activity. Maybe you can make “homemade” popcorn, or go outside and play with bubbles. You still have the grandchildren twice a week, and you still have a great feeling for everybody, but the new habit will be more healthful all around!

For more ideas to bring about healthy habits, please reach out to me.

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