Tag Archives: happiness

New Year New Habits

New Year resolutions are as much a part of the holiday season as baubles, gifts and tinsel and millions of us will soon be noting down our promises for the upcoming year. According to a study by the University of Scranton, 45% of Americans made resolutions last year yet only 8% were successful in achieving their resolution. So why is it that so few people manage to commit to their resolution?

Well, often it’s due to the unrealistic expectations people place on themselves. Don’t make your resolution a revolution: it won’t work.  It’s sometimes easy to get carried away when making our new year plans as we tend to focus on all our flaws and promise ourselves that next year will be different. Our negative brain bias forces us to remember the more negative aspects of our lives and looks, and so we swear to make changes- more exercise, less eating, more gratitude, less spending, more productive, less stress. And this is a good thing…when done rationally. When we make resolution after resolution with grand, sweeping claims to change, we are setting ourselves up for failure as there are too many demands and too much pressure. We are creatures of habit- but old habits. Once a habit is embedded and becomes part of our daily rituals, it’s usually there to stay- whether we like it or not. But getting to the point where a new behaviour becomes automatic is quite easy if we go about it the right way.

Less is more

Stanford Professor BJ Fogg’s expertise lies in creating systems to change human behaviour, or as he calls it, “Behaviour Design.” For over 20 years, he has studied human behaviour and on his site tinyhabits.com he states that throughout his research, he has found the following:

Only 3 things will change behaviour in the long term:

  1. Have an epiphany
  2. Change your environment (what surrounds you)
  3. Take baby steps

Now, as far as I’m aware, an epiphany isn’t always available. But what is more promising is that the other two factors are completely in our control and are most successful for forging new routines. Fogg’s ‘TinyHabits’ method and online program helps people ‘tap the power of environment and baby steps’ by asking participants to follow 3 easy steps when making a new habit:

  1. Make it tiny- simplify! Rather than trying to commit to doing 100 push ups a day, just commit to 1 or even 3 if you like living dangerously.
  2. Connect it to something you’re already doing. Setting an alarm or writing copious amounts of post-it notes as a reminder to perform your new habit can be quite laborious, and let’s face it, keeping up with setting an alarm is a habit in itself. Fogg’s research indicates that anchoring a new habit to a pre-existing routine is central to success. Some habits we have are pretty ingrained and we tend to do them on autopilot with very little effort or motivation, so it makes sense to utilise these rituals as a trigger. Fogg advises that the best way to start a new behaviour is to ‘put it *after* some act that is a solid habit for you, like brushing teeth or eating lunch.’ So if for example you want to practice more gratitude in the evening, focus your intention by saying “After my head hits the pillow, I will think of 1 reason to be be grateful” or if your resolution is to show more affection for your children, then commit to a ritual like, “After my son walks through the door, I will hug him for 10 seconds”.
  3. Celebrate it! In his fascinating Ted Talk, BJ Fogg asks his audience to practice a tiny habit of his choosing: flossing one tooth. The, he tells his audience to acknowledge their success by performing a little victory dance or something that reinforces their ‘awesomeness’, like a Judd Nelson style ‘fist in the air’ or shouting out “Bingo!”. By rewarding our effort and success in completing our new habit, we are much more likely to repeat it in the future.

Process over Product

Planning and goal setting is also essential. But how we view our goals can make the difference between success and failure. How many of us have hoped to start a new habit by focussing on the desired outcome: a slimmer waistline, less anxiety, more money. It seems obvious that in order to motivate us to do something we should focus on the finish line, right? Well, no. In a study by the University of California, researchers found that people who visualized the process of reaching their goals rather than just the end product were much more likely to stay motivated.

What if?

Ok, so we know how to form a habit and what will help us stay motivated but what if we start to stray? Once the excitement of starting something new has worn off, how do we stay focused and committed to our cause? Research into implementation intentions suggests that using an ‘if…then’ prompt can also make a habit more ‘sticky’, especially when anchored to a pre-existing ritual. So rather than telling ourselves, “I’m going to write in my gratitude journal every night’ change it to, “If it is bedtime, then I will write 3 things into my gratitude journal’.  This can also be used when we are faced with obstacles, such as being too tired or too busy. So again, we can try to fortify our commitment by proposing solutions to any barriers that we regularly put up and tell ourselves, “If I am too busy to write in my gratitude journal, then I will think of 3 things after I get into bed.”

Habits are hard, especially when we already have so many demands placed on us. Time is of the essence and energy is depleted beyond repair. But new healthy habits will give us more time or energy or money if we are able to stick and commit.

5 steps to stick and commit:

  1. Make your habit simple.
  2. Anchor it *after* a pre-existing ritual.
  3. Celebrate.
  4. Visualise the process not just the outcome.
  5. Use ‘If…then’ to stay on track.

Merry Christmas and ‘Habit’ New Year!

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UK Report Advises Schools to Build Emotional Resiliency in Students

A UK report is calling for happiness classes to become part of school life, to help improve young people’s deteriorating mental health in the wake of research that warns that approximately 10% of children currently have a mental health disorder which has led to more young people turning to alcohol, cannabis and self-harm.

happiness report

Early intervention

The report entitled ‘The Pursuit of Happiness: A New Ambition for our Mental Health’ from the Centre Forum Mental Health Commission calls for much needed prioritising and promotion of the mental health of children and young people from conception onwards. The report highlights the need for early intervention as ‘three quarters of lifetime cases [of mental health issues] are diagnosed before the age of 25 and half of all lifetime cases are diagnosed before the age of 14…However the majority of [UK] public spending on mental health is focused on crisis intervention and longer‐term acute care and support, rather than on prevention and early intervention.”

Parent and School Intervention

Proposals set out in the report include a requirement for teachers to educate children on how to look after their mental health, parenting programmes for families of children with behavioural problems, and regular development assessments at key stages during a person’s childhood.

In reference to schools, the report recommends that:

  • The national curriculum should include the requirement to teach children and young people how to look after their mental health and build emotional resilience through approaches such as mindfulness.
  • Teachers and other educational staff should receive training in child development, mental health and psychological resilience to enable them to identify children who are vulnerable.
  • For children experiencing mild to moderate mental health problems, there should be increased access to psychological and other therapies in schools or in the community.

Transforming Powers

The Commission urges governments to prioritise investment in the mental health of children and teenagers. It says this will not just transform people’s life chances but reduce the costs to society of low educational attainment, negative behaviour, worklessness, crime, and antisocial behaviour. Prof Sue Bailey, Chair of Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition and outgoing President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “I am delighted that this report points out the current stark reality of lack of resourcing for the well being, resilience and mental health of all children and young people from conception to adulthood. But more importantly the report offers practical steps that move from the rhetoric to the reality of how to best invest in the well being and mental health of children and young people. How to deliver effective early identification, assessment, timely support and treatment because our children simply deserve better.”

New Year, New Start and Making a Difference

ImageNew Year, New Start and Make a Difference

Every year without fail many people decide to make new years’ resolutions.  The type of resolutions vary greatly; often they are about losing weight, getting more exercise, giving something up or making some kind of change.   Often these resolutions are broken even before the year has begun. 

A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning. This begs the question, why?  I for one have never been overly successful at keeping new years’ resolutions, but I have had some success setting goals and working to achieve them, particularly when they are shared with others and articulated clearly to friends, family and colleagues.

In his new year’s resolution book “A course in happiness” author Frank Ra says : “Resolutions are more sustainable when shared, both in terms of with whom you share the benefits of your resolution, and with whom you share the path of maintaining your resolution. Peer-support makes a difference in success rate with new year’s resolutions”.  I would like to suggest this is the case with any resolution or goal we set for ourselves.

I think the best thing about any change be it a new year, a new job, a new school is that we have an opportunity to reflect on the past and consider what we want our future to be. I remember some years back I left a job I had held for a very long time, it was a job I loved, I had had many successes, learnt from the odd failure, grown enormously in skill and ability and respected those I worked with without question.  Leaving was a huge change and a challenge, I had to redefine myself, who I was, what I wanted out of life and above all else what was the next thing I wanted to do.  Needless to say this involved some period of contemplation, reflection and a resolve to start the next chapter in my life’s journey.

After taking a period of downtime I realised that the thing that I wanted to do most was to take all the skills I had learnt, all the abilities I had gained to date and to apply them to making a difference in the lives of others.  In deciding to choose this path and telling others this is what I wanted to do new doors opened that led me to where I am today, leading this wonderful organisation whose work effects the life of others on a daily basis.

The team here at Pathways to Resilience Trust is completely committed to our work and to making a difference to others.  When we all started working together a few years ago we came upon the starfish story and it resonated with all of us and very much became part of who we wanted to be as a team.  I thought I would share the story with you.

 The Starfish StoryImage

adapted from The Star Thrower
by Loren Eiseley
1907 – 1977

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “I made a difference to that one!”

It is a wonderful story and one that we have referred to time and time again over the last few years….it is definitely important to us to know we made a difference.