I can’t keep New Year’s Resolutions; I have no will power.
At this time of the year it’s quite typical that we reflect on the year that has been and think about some changes that we may want to make over the coming year. Some of the most common resolutions involve behaviour change in some way. For example, there may be some behaviours you’d like to increase e.g. to exercise more, to learn a new skill or to read more books. Or, behaviours you’d like to decrease e.g. reduce spending on takeaways, reduce single use plastic or cut down on alcohol intake.
The good news is, you don’t have to rely on ‘will power’ to move towards these goals, the science of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is the science of human behaviour, which we can use to help us meet our own goals and aspirations. This is known as self-management, and there’s nothing new or mystical about it. People who learn a few self-management tactics can learn to control a wide range of their own behaviours. Here are a few that may be helpful going into the New Year:
Find Your Why – Identifying why something is important to you is an important step in changing behaviour around it. Identifying our values means that we can track our actions as moves away or towards that value. For example, taking care of my health and wellbeing is a value of mine, and by keeping that in mind I can make a choice to go for a walk and move towards that value, even if I don’t necessarily feel like it in that moment. In behaviour analysis, values can help change your ‘MO’ – to increase the motivation to engage in an action.
Identify Barriers – There will likely be barriers along the way, identifying these and having a plan of action will increase the likelihood that you can overcome and continue to move towards your value. For example, being tired and hungry can be a barrier for me in making healthy meal choices. Therefore planning and preparing meals in advance means I am much more likely to reduce my spending on last minute lunches or dinners when the barriers of being tired and hungry arise.
Break the skill down into small steps – By breaking something down into small steps, it becomes more achievable and we will be more likely to experience success which we can then build upon. My reading goal is currently set at 5 minutes per day, a goal which I have found is easily achievable, and that I will often go over. My next steps will be to systematically increase the time. Celebrate the small wins, they all count! This can also mean starting the initial steps of a behaviour chain, for example opening up the laptop and some reference text books was the first step that lead to the writing of this post.
Accountability – Let others know your intentions, they can support you and help you be accountable to your goals. Setting prompts for yourself also helps e.g. setting appointments on your calendar that you keep, or setting reminders. Do something that future you will thank you for, e.g. morning me is always grateful to night before me for packing my reusable water bottle or coffee cup ready to go!
Don’t Give Up – Set backs are to be expected. It is human nature to have thoughts that ‘this is too hard’, ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I’m too tired/lazy/anxious today’ or find something else that takes priority. Take a moment to acknowledge this, and make a conscious choice of how you respond in that moment to move towards the person that you would like to be. We can only influence what we do right now, every moment is a new chance to do the next right thing for you.