Tag cloud on words about changing habits.

Turning New Year’s resolutions into habits

It’s around this time of year that New Year’s resolutions, like cutting back on alcohol, start to go a bit pear shaped. So GrogWatch thought it would look at research on how to keep good habits.

If you have kept your New Year’s resolution so far then you are doing pretty well. Research published in the British Journal of Health Psychology  showed that the mere action of setting a positive goal is likely to trigger unwanted habits. So if you have decided to give up beer you will crave it even more.

However, the same study demonstrated that if you work out a plan for dealing with situations where you are likely to be tempted, then it will protect your good intentions from being dashed. This means finding alternative drinks to alcohol you enjoy or avoiding situations where your might automatically reach for a drink.

This idea is supported by Panos Mourdoukoutas in his recent Forbes article. He suggests that we can change our habits by altering our lifestyle. For example, it might be easier for you to avoid drinking at a barbecue if you jump up and play cricket, than if you take up your usual seat at the table where everyone else is drinking (and questioning why you’re not).

Take a look at this downloadable flowchart called ‘How to change a habit  by Charles Duhigg.

Duhigg suggests looking at the cue for the habit you want to change (drinking), which might be the time or situation where you normally drink. The next step is figuring out what is the real reward you get from drinking at that time or in that situation. Once you have this information you can then experiment with changing your routine until you find a new healthier behaviour that gives you the same reward. Here’s an example of how that might work.

Cue: Jenny arrives home each day after a tiring day at work and heads straight for the fridge and a cold glass of wine.

Reward: Jenny figures out that the actual reward is not the wine. What she really enjoys is a cold drink, relaxation and forgetting about work.

Routine: Jenny decides to change her routine by drinking a fruity iced tea and taking her dog to the park for a long walk. The exercise, and the interaction with her dog and other dog walkers, helps her relax and forget about pressures at work.

Another trick recommended by Duhigg is to give yourself a small treat, such as a piece of chocolate, if you avoid unwanted behaviour. He insists that after three to four weeks most people will no longer need the chocolate.

So, think carefully about when, where and why you drink alcohol, and see if you can use that information to develop new healthier habits. If that doesn’t work, you might want to try saying, “I don’t drink”, rather than “I can’t drink”, as a recent study published in Scientific American Mind shows that this simple change in wording makes it easier to resist temptation.

Good luck!