Making Lasting Change

BJ Fogg, Stanford University

BJ Fogg, Stanford University

Yep, it’s that time of year.

Here it is, February of a new year, and I return from my writing hiatus to be inundated with messages of self improvement and change.

All the magazine covers are touting New Year’s resolutions and promoting solutions for the most popular ones: lose weight, exercise more, eat healthy, etc. I am happy to see topics that include meditation, gratitude practice and being a better parent/partner/person, but do these articles really make a difference? They show up, year after year, and still the numbers for how many people keep their resolutions is abysmal.

How do you even make a permanent improvement in your life?

There are many studies on human motivation, behavior and change. Despite what you see on the magazine covers, the popular idea of repeating a new behavior for 15, 21 or 31 days for a permanent change is a bit simplistic. Let’s talk about a more realistic framework for making real, lasting change.

First of all, let’s assume you’ve thought about your life and decided on a SMART goal for improvement, right? That’s a goal that is Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. An example of rewriting a goal to be SMART is going from “I want to be more healthy,” to “By summer, I want to be able to climb three flights of stairs without being out of breath.” Look to www.wikihow.com/Set-SMART-Goals for additional help. Note that this process can be equally applied in business and in your personal life.

The real challenge is how to make a change “stick”.

The magazines are purchased because they promise quick solutions to (e.g. “21 Days to Great Abs.”) The research of Dr. BJ Fogg, Stanford University, honors that is is not always that simple (or we’d all have great abs). There are three core motivators, six simplicity factors, and three type of triggers that combine to give the statistical likelihood that you will succeed in implementing a behavioral change. (http://www.behaviormodel.org) The mathematical formulas look pretty complex, but the good news is that you can just focus on increasing the odds in your favor. Today we will discuss the simplicity factors.

You set yourself up for success by making your desired change as simple as possible.

Simplicity is defined as the minimally satisfying solution at the lowest cost. (“Cost” is your most scarce resource.) From the list below, decide which resource(s) you have the least of, which is/are your biggest personal and situational roadblocks, and which you can address to make a positive change more likely to stick.

  1. Time – I’ve never heard anyone say they have plenty of time, but certainly starting an exercise program during finals or holidays is putting additional obstacles in front of you. Can you break up your change into smaller chunks you can fit in? Is there a creative two-fer (2 activities in one) you can create, like dancing while brushing your teeth or stretching while waiting in lines?
  2. Money – 99% of us don’t have ‘enough’ money, so let’s just take that off the table. If your change absolutely takes an increase in money, then that’s an entirely separate goal to look at. Let’s assume there is a more creative solution at this point and not use money as an excuse.
  3. Physical Effort – If it’s a big rigmarole to go home, get your stuff together, change into workout clothes, drive to the gym, put your stuff in a locker, etc., the odds of you attending that class is pretty slim. But if it’s across the street for where you’re going anyway to pick up the kids, and you keep workout clothes in the car, you just might make it.
  4. Brain Space – How much do you have to think about it? Is the workout bag in the front seat where you will see it? Can you set an alarm or recurring calendar event so you don’t have to rely on your memory?
  5. Sociability – Is everyone else doing it? You are more likely to walk during your work breaks if other people are. Find those people. Hang out or connect with “buddies” that have similar goals to you, as the accountability and support will help you stick to it.
  6. Routine – If something is so opposite to who you are and how you live your life, it will be hard to incorporate it. Instead of starting some new class, put on hyper kid music and dance around the house.

The goal is the result, not the activity.

Do you really have to walk, lift weights or do push-ups to be healthier? In reality, these are just a few ways to reach an end goal. Find something that fits you, your lifestyle and your priorities, and you’re more likely to succeed.

There are a lot of demands on our time, resources and brain power.

I personally have been trying to get eight hours of sleep every night since my children were born. That was over seven years ago. But each stage of their growth, especially since there are two of them now, presents its own challenges with regards to my sleep. But I keep trying, mostly because I now know how fundamental good sleep is to all other facets of my life: health, mood, brain function, etc.

The point is to keep trying different things until you find something that works for you and the behavior you’re trying to change. With sleep, it might be moving your bedtime up half an hour, finding a bedtime routine that calms your brain chatter, herbal supplements, reading a boring book, or in times of desperation, temporarily leaning on medication. (Yes, sleep is *that* important, as I wrote about here.)

Yes, but what does any of this have to do with being a change agent superhero, Tess?

Why on Earth do I write about personal growth-type topics when my company primarily focuses on helping small and medium-sized businesses implement effective, intentional change? I was asked that question (more or less) over the holidays. My answer? Look in the mirror. Who do you think *makes* those changes?

I support you because I support what you are trying to do. I encourage you to redefine success as the journey itself and acknowledge that you are taking the road less traveled. You are part of the small percentage of the population that is constantly looking to improve yourself and your world. You are a seeker and an improver. Take pride in that. I know I do. And I’m proud that you’re on this journey with me.

Please share some of the ways you make change easier on yourself in the comments section below!

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