Yesterday the QI team tweeted:

"Over 50% of people have broken their New Year's Resolutions by now."

Quite Interesting (@qikipedia)
20/01/2020, 16:00

Ouch.

Actually, threats and punishments don't help either. Just ask the people who collect fines for parking and speeding offences...

It's important to recognise that when you want to build a new habit, you often have to break an old one (or two). Habits get baked into our brain. So changing habits is about changing our brains. The tough thing about changing habits is they are stubborn. This is also the good thing about them. Once we make them; they tend to stick around.

You may want an empty mailbox but what habits will you need to change to make it an ongoing reality? You may dream of finishing a Park Run - but how do you change the habits that are currently getting in your way?

For these heavy-duty remodelling scenarios, you need a sturdy, change-supporting 'scaffolding' tower.

Here are three scaffolding/strategies that will do the job:

#1 One in, one out

If you want to change or make a habit, what are you prepared to pay to make it happen? Something's gotta give.

If you're trying to keep your inbox flowing free then you might have to:

- accept this is an ongoing rather than one-off process
- let go of filing in lots of folders and switch to using search and categories. Use the time saved to...
- make more maintenance time

In the 'start running' example some of the 'prices' you might be prepared to pay are:

- feeling conspicuous, at first
- aching the next day

You might also give up:

- late nights before you plan to run
- drinking coffee so you sleep properly and wake up refreshed
- eating food that doesn't provide the energy you need
- expecting instant transformations or perfect results from day one

That brings us to the second essential piece of change-scaffolding:

#2 Use your own feedback

Your results will be different to mine. Your successes will arrive at a frequency that's unique to you. You can manage the pace and frequency of the change you are making. You get to increase or decrease the intervals, volume, intensity of the change in order to find the perfect level for yourself. The level that delivers reasonable and motivating improvement without injury, frustration and exhaustion.

In other words, expect to get it wrong at first and plan to adjust regularly until you get the hang of it. The good thing about this is you will learn a great deal about how you operate and what works for you.

The last scaffolding support is the most fun:

#3 Build 'nudges'

If you've ever left a letter that needed posting by your front door - just so you will remember it as you leave in the morning - you are using the power of nudges.

Nudges are adjustments you make to your routines and surroundings to increase the likelihood of you doing the things you want to do. Here are some examples:

Inbox zero nudges

- use travel time (maybe between the same two stations or stops every day) to process your messages
- arrive early for meetings and use that time for inbox processing
- dedicate the last 5 minutes of an hour to this task
- maybe the 30 minutes before lunch are used for processing time
- set aside 10 AM and 3 PM every day for an inbox sweep
- try competing with yourself and set a timer and see how many emails you can clear in 7 minutes. If you beat your last score then reward yourself.

Running nudges

The night before:
- leave Shoes and kit by bedroom door or at the side of the bed.
- get a much earlier night than usual
- set an alarm to remind you to stop work early evening / stop using computers / phones / watching tv in order get a great sleep (and wake up energised)
- have breakfast, clothes for work and bag packed so that you have more time in the morning to exercise

People make great nudges too:

- join or set-up a group dedicated to making your new habit become a reality.
- agree with a friend to a bit of motivating rivalry. Compare scores. Encourage each other. Have fun with it.
- you can even compete against yourself if you track your performance and try to beat your recent scores.
- hire a coach :-)

Keep it real

Use all the feedback you get. Your scaffolding might need to be adjusted a few times before you get your new habit built. We're all different. This is normal. If it's still difficult to get started try breaking down your soon-to-be-new-habit into its smallest components and tackle them one by one.

For example, you could break down keeping a clear inbox into:

- Keep your inbox at 500 messages less - whatever seems challenging and attainable, at first. Then bring the number down as your successes increase
- only tackle one type of email (cc'd messages), or emails from a particular person or on a specific subject. This is a good way to build the skills you need with less pressure.
- set a target of archiving only 10 emails per day (or half day or hour). Again choose a number and interval that's interesting, motivating and still achievable.

For breaking down running into smaller steps you could:

- use a timer/guided training app / audio. The NHS has a free  couch to 5K podcast
- start with easier kinds of exercise, before getting into running. Walk more, take the stairs rather than escalators and lifts. Getting off the bus or tube a stop or two stop earlier.

Whatever your goal choose scaffolding that works for you. Get creative and experiment. When you get your new habit to stick, you will have also discovered something amazing.

You will have created your personal formula for change.
That really is a habit worth making.

Training: Getting to Inbox Zero
Faculty: deliver
Coaching: A coach can get you from 'stuck' to 'unstuck'


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