How Will You Accomplish Your New Year’s Resolution?
Today’s post falls into the third and (for now) final category on David Drinks Fitness. That category is “book reviews.” I am a self-labeled fitness nerd, because I am constantly trying to read new books, blogs, journals, etc. that relate to exercise science (my major in college) or psychology (my minor in college). From time to time, I will be reviewing some of the books that I read related to fitness and health topics. Today’s post reviews a book by Chip and Dan Heath. Read on to find out more!
As a Wellness and Health Coach, part of my job involves helping people make healthy, sustainable changes in their lives. Fortunately, this time of year makes my job easier because many people are already thinking about how they can make positive changes. On the other hand, you are probably aware that most healthy changes made around the New Year are not maintained.
As New Year’s Resolutions abound, often the only outcome seems to be the filling of the figurative New Year’s Resolution trash can. All those resolutions that so many people were resolute to make end up getting thrown away before the end of the month. In fact, I recently discovered that January 17th is celebrated by some as “Dump Your Resolutions Day.” (Side note – my brother and his fiancée are getting married this January 17th, and I don’t think they plan to dump that resolution!)
To give you an idea of the number of unsustainable resolutions that are made, here are some stats from statisticbrain.com:
45% of Americans usually make New Year’s Resolutions.
8% of those people are successful in achieving their resolutions.
24% of people never succeed, but fail every year on their resolution.
When it comes to the kind of resolutions that are made, losing weight is number one in the top ten, and staying fit and healthy is number five. It’s clear that a lot of people want to lose weight, become healthier, and sustain that lifestyle throughout the year. But as you can see, the inability to sustain these desired healthy changes is a problem in America.
My goal is to help those who want to change actually accomplish their resolution.
One book that helped me along these lines is Chip and Dan Heath’s book “Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.” The following are some of my thoughts after reading this book.
According to the Heath brothers, there is a basic pattern which is present in any significant change effort. Understanding this pattern will set you up for success. The pattern involves three components:
The rational part of your brain
The emotional part of your brain
The environment that surrounds you
By way of a clever analogy (which they attribute to psychologist Jonathan Haidt), they compare these three components to a rider on an elephant (the rational brain), an elephant (the emotional brain), and the path (the environment).
The rider sits on top of the elephant and appears to be in control because he holds the reins and tells the elephant where to go. But due to a clear size and strength difference, the elephant can win any disagreement that it wants to and overcome the rider.
Relating this back to the mind, you have likely experienced this disagreement between the rider (your rational mind) and the elephant (your emotional mind) in your own life. If you’ve ever slept in too late, gone for the pizza instead of the salad, or chosen to stay on the couch rather than go to the gym, then you know how this feels.
As much as the rider tells the elephant what it should do, sometimes that elephant just pulls too hard in the other direction.
Besides the rider and the elephant, the third component is “the path” or the environment you are in. Taking a look at the environment can go a long way in explaining why many change efforts tend to fade out before long. Your work and home environment, and even the people with whom you surround yourself on a daily basis can either make or break the change.
If you want to make a significant change the rider, elephant, and path must all come into alignment.
How to Align All Three
In order to get all three of these components working with each other instead of pulling against each other, the Heath brothers recommend three things. You must:
Direct the Rider
Motivate the Elephant
Shape the Path
Some people may find that one or two of these components are already in place. Others may need to work on all three. In order to find out which component(s) need the most attention, ask yourself these three questions:
Is there a lack of direction or clarity regarding where to start the change? (I.e. do I know exactly what I need to do or do I need to figure out the first step?)
Is there a need for meaningful motivation to push me in the direction I need to go? (I.e. what’s your “why” behind making the change? Do you have something that can literally move you?)
Is my environment set up to impede or challenge my change effort? (I.e. is my work and home environment set up to oppose this change? How about the people I surround myself with?)
Once you know the answer, you can focus your efforts. Now it’s time to get into each piece!
Direct the Rider
Your rational mind may know that you need to make a change, but it needs concrete steps to take in order to actually start the change effort. If you want to start exercising, but you have no idea how to start, where to exercise, or who can help you, finding out these three things is your first step. Here’s what you can do to direct the rider:
FOLLOW THE BRIGHT SPOTS. Think “what has worked for me in the past and how can I replicate this?”
SCRIPT THE CRITICAL MOVES. Focus on specific behaviors or action steps you can start on rather than thinking about the entire change to be made. In other words, break it down and pick one or two initial steps to focus on.
POINT TO THE DESTINATION. Know what the end goal is and why you’re starting your change. Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it.
Motivate the Elephant
Often the emotional side of the brain is deemed as the bad guy, because it is the one that keeps you on the couch or in bed when you know you should be exercising. But the emotional component also has strengths, which are essential as long as they are aligned with the rational side of the mind.
The emotional side is great for pushing you past previous barriers in order to accomplish a goal. It can also get you off the couch on a cold, rainy day if it has the necessary motivation to do so. In order to motivate that elephant you can:
FIND THE FEELING. Find a way to tap into the motivation behind making a change, instead of just the rational knowledge that you should change. For example, think about who you’re doing it for.
SHRINK THE CHANGE. The elephant can be lazy and stubborn, especially if the change is large and overwhelming. To fight this, find ways to break down the change into manageable pieces. For example, if you need to clean your entire house, start by committing to cleaning for ten minutes. This will get you started, which is always the most difficult part.
GROW YOUR PEOPLE. A growth mindset can be critical to making a change. Learn to see yourself as capable of growing and changing, instead of identifying yourself with who you are right now.
Shape the Path
Finally, shaping your environment to allow for change can be especially helpful. If your surroundings are set up to disrupt your change right from the start, you won’t be very successful. In order to shape the path you can:
TWEAK THE ENVIRONMENT. When your situation changes, you’re behavior often changes, so start with changing your environment. For example, if you don’t want to eat junk food, get it out of the house!
BUILD HABITS. When habits are in place your rational mind is not taxed because the behavior is automatic; the rider doesn’t have to fight the elephant. Build habits that align with your goal, and change becomes easier.
RALLY THE HERD. Behavior is contagious, so if you can involve a group of people in your change effort, it will make it that much easier to accomplish.
I hope these tips have been useful for you as you begin the New Year on the right foot. Resolutions get a bad rap because they are rarely sustained for long. It doesn’t have to be this way, however. If you want to make a change in your lifestyle, you can do it by following the steps outlined in this article.
Start slow and build on your successes. Before you know it, you will ingrain the change you want to make. But before your resolution is accomplished, you will likely have to Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant, and Shape the Path.
If you are interested in more, please check out Chip and Dan Heath’s book “Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard” which I linked to above. Happy New Year!