In our last post we identified that there are different ways of categorising behavioural change. The type of change we want to make has a huge bearing on the type of strategies that will be effective in achieving success.
Behaviour can be categorised according to whether it is low or high effort and whether it is creating new behaviour or preventing old behaviour.
In this article we want to focus on creating novice behaviours. Creating any new behaviour is about creating a new neuronal pathway in the brain. Each time we force ourselves to do something we make the neurons fire. Over time this firing becomes quicker and more automated because the neuron is more prepared to fire.
Understanding Novice Behaviours
Novice activities are new behaviours that take relatively little effort to succeed at. Yet they seem to be the things we brush aside, put off until tomorrow or under-estimate due to their simplicity. Things like morning walks, eating fruit at lunch time or reading a little each day. The tasks themselves are not strenuous, require little to no-expertise and don’t tend to be too time consuming. However, if they are not already part of your routine then getting started can be difficult.
It is also worth noting that there may be some interactions between your new goal and your old behaviours that can complicate the process. For example, if you are planning to swap a bag of crisps for an apple each day then you are not only starting a novice behaviour but also breaking a habit – adding a need to use more strategies.
Achieving Your Novice Behaviours
Start small – changing your entire diet or running for an hour a day may seem daunting, time consuming or like a culture shock. Creating a ‘new road’ in your brain can be done bit at a time – with a narrow or short path that gets bigger once it feels integrated. Short timings, single snacks can be changed at first and then other elements changed later. This will make it easier to adjust to the changes and let one thing settle.
Find pleasure or reward in it – often these goals don’t get met when they seem arbitrary, boring or unpleasant. Find a way to make it enjoyable so that it doesn’t seem like a chore and so takes less effort to initiate. This may involve socialising the activity (going to the gym in a group), making it competitive (using a pedometer to compete with yourself or others) or simply ensuring you pick out the fruit that you like the best. If it is something less ‘fun’ then find a way to reward yourself occasionally that doesn’t go against the goal.
Create routines – we are more likely to stick at those small things when they become part of our automatic routine. I never even think about putting my watch on, it just happens every morning because I leave it in my ‘morning path’. Doing things at the same time each day or week can help establish a routine or even attaching a new behaviour to an existing routine can be helpful. E.g. taking my vitamins at lunchtime each day, reading a blog a day on my bus ride. The more you can integrate your new behaviours into your day the longer lasting they will be.
Monitor your progress – this may be a simple as a daily list, ticking the calendar each time you perform your behaviour, measuring the outcome of your behaviour. Monitoring can help some people to stay motivated, especially if they enjoy ticking things off. Remember that monitoring is all about giving yourself credit when you do achieve what you set out to and holding yourself accountable when you don’t – this doesn’t mean punishing yourself but finding out what got in the way and working out how to overcome this next time.
Find your minimum – there will be days when you just don’t feel like doing your new behaviour at all. But breaking your routine can make it harder to get back to later. On those days where you don’t feel like an hour at the gym, compromise with a walk home. At the beginning decide what is the least you want to do each day to keep some form of routine going – perhaps reading a short article instead of a book chapter.
Maintaining The Routine
The biggest success factor in novice behaviours is maintaining a routine. What used to take effort or thought at the beginning will seem automatic and integrated the longer you stick at it. Days off can knock the routine off course and make you lose it so make sure to do your minimum or get straight back to it the next day to make it stick.
Good luck starting those positive habits and always remember WHY you are doing it to keep you motivated and on track.
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