New resolutions, old habits

I know. I’m lazy. But I made myself a New Years resolution that I would write myself something really special. Which means I have ’til December, right? –Catherine O’Hara

Gyms are back to normal attendance. Your morning walk companions are the same and the rush has come down. Cigarette, alcohol and junk food sales are steadily returning to normalcy if not growing. What’s happening?

No, it is not remonitisation. It is because 18 days of January have passed. If you haven’t got the drift of my point, here is the fact – new year resolutions are falling apart. If your new year resolution is not progressing as you had planned, don’t worry. One by one, by the thousands and millions across the world, people are giving up on their new year resolutions and getting back to… well normalcy. More often than not for most people resolutions (new year or any other) fail. Why?

Simple. We are creatures of habit. We behave the way we do is because of what psychologists refer to as a Habit Loop – a neurological loop that governs any habit. In electricity a loop is a closed circuit. In a computer it is a sequence of instructions that repeats numerous times until an end condition is met. In us it is the patterns of behavior which we call habit.

A Habit Loop has three elements in it – a cue, a routine, and a reward. Let’s take the most favourite new year resolution to understand habit loop – dieting. Cue is hunger, routine is to eat to satiate hunger, and the reward is a happy tummy (or is it the mind?). If you want to diet and reduce weight it is not enough if you starve, undertake a crash diet or change the menu. Starving and crash diet are not recommended and the last gives you limited success. For success, you need to break the pattern of how you eat, when you eat and with whom you eat (true!).

Charles Dhuigg who wrote the wonderful book The Power Habit explains how he broke the habit of snacking at 3:30 pm every day in the office. He would go to the cafeteria buy a cookie and socialize with colleagues. He analysed his habit and realized that the reward was not the cookie, but the opportunity to socialize with friends. He simply set an alarm at 3:30 PM on his watch and walked up to colleague’s desk to chat for 10 minutes. Slowly with conscious effort, he weaned away the habit of snacking at 3:30 pm.

If you are someone who eats dinner while watching TV and is serious about dieting, try this. Eat your dinner standing with the TV switched off. Researchers have noted that one tends to eat more while the mind is busy – note the number of cookies you eat during a conference or a meeting. If it is TV with your favourite characters, sound & lights an extra helping will always be the norm (or the habit!). Also, if you need to eat less, have less food around. As the great behavior scientist Dan Ariely points out, if you need to eat less, make the plate the smaller!

Don’t challenge your will power and test it to check if you can resist chocolate when it is in the fridge. The result is clear and definite – failure. As our sages from the vedic times pointed out this body is the seat of pleasure. Our mind is the great accumulator of the pleasures that we experience. If you want your new year resolution to succeed, win over your mind. You are what you are because of your habits and what you want to or will be is because of habits. Analyse the cues, routines and the rewards of our current habits. Break them and change them. Viola! Your mind starts forming new habits. Easy isn’t it!

Need more help? Try the powerful WOOP strategy created by Oettingen, Pak, & Schnetter. W –wish, O- objective or a goal, O- obstacle recognition and P – plan to deal with your obstacle. You need to genuinely Wish to diet & reduce weight. Then have a realistic and measurable Objective/goal (inches or kgs) and know your Obstacles (which foods, which times and with whom you eat). Based on the above make a Plan to overcome the obstacle (don’t have such foods in the house, pack food from home, have a small plate, eat not in the sofa and eat alone if needed).

Finally, what’s there in January 1 that you need to start on that day? It’s just a date! Start any day you want but with a plan and act on it. Be your own judge and jury.

Happy New Year (Resolutions!)



PS: What’s my New Year resolution. Be happy!


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