Tag Archives: positive

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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More Social, Less Media

Tired of Twitter? Fed up of Facebook? Well you’re not the only one. 

Social media is becoming more of an oxymoron every day. With new research suggesting that our obsession with devices can negatively affect our ability to read emotional cues in other people¹, it seems that now is the time to detach from the ‘media’ and focus on the ‘social’.

Try swapping one of your digital habits for one of the activities below and take the time to reflect on how the experience differed to the one you usually have with your device.

Gaming

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1) Swap Angry Birds for Hungry Hippos. Play cards not apps. Choose board games over virtual worlds. Ok, you get the message. Blow the cobwebs off those board games and arrange a good old fashioned games night with your family or friends. Use this opportunity to model and teach your children how to deal with failure and success; show your child how to bounce back from a wrong answer rather than resorting to blame or quitting the game altogether. How often do we get these opportunities to teach such a valuable social and emotional skill?

 

Posting

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2) Post a letter rather than a status or pic. Even better, write a gratitude letter and then hand deliver it to your deserving recipient. Martin Seligman’s groundbreaking work on positive psychology has found that writing and hand delivering a gratitude letter increases happiness. In his book ‘Flourish’, Seligman asks his readers to ‘call up the face of someone still alive who years ago did something or said something that changed your life for the better. Someone who you never properly thanked; someone you could meet face-to-face next week.’ He then challenges you to write a 300 word letter to the person, specifically stating what the person did and how it affected you. Once written, call the person and arrange a visit, but be vague as to why  you want to see them- the surprise element makes the experience all the more fun! When you finally get to see the person, read the letter word for word. Take the time to notice how you both react to the letter and try to manage any interruptions that crop up; ensure that they get to hear every word and understand why you are so grateful. Seligman believes that this simple act will make you happier and less depressed within one month of making the visit.

3) Photos

Social media has enabled us to acquire online catalogues of photos and videos that, if privacy settings allow, can be shared and viewed by the whole world. Gone are the days when we’d have to carefully remove the roll of film from the camera, travel all that way to the shop to get them developed and then painstakingly stick each picture into an album. Although the speed and ease that modern technology has afforded us is wonderful, have we lost something else in the process? When was the last time you looked at your holiday pictures on anything but a LCD screen? Why not take that memory card out of your camera and get a few of your favourite pictures printed. Then arrange an evening with some of the subjects in those photographs and take the time to talk about the picture and remember the moment it was taken. Or take out an old album from years ago and plan a reunion. Whatever you choose to do, try to make it sociable, fun and face to face.

 For more ideas visit wwww.socialseptember.com for a full calendar of ideas.

Nelson Mandela International Day: The greatest lessons.

Friday 18th July- the day that Nelson Mandela was born- marks Nelson Mandela International Day. In 2009, the UN General Assembly declared this day in honour of Mandela’s dedication to resolving conflict, promoting equality and striving for peace. His incredible courage, resilience and positivity is a lesson that continues to be taught throughout the world; he is a model for compassion and optimism and has taught us some of the greatest lessons for a happier healthier life.

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Stay positive, stay alive.

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed towards the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

–              Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandella.

Mandela’s optimism and positive mindset was what kept him moving forward rather than basking in his despair and misfortune. By looking up and keeping his head toward the sun, he ensured that he was always heading towards the light and moving away from the dark moments which often tested his resolve. His courage and conviction is inspiring and encourages us to always focus on the light in our lives and not dwell on the dark.

Model and teach positive emotions.

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite.”

–              Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela.

Educators, counsellors and communities all play a valuable role in educating and empowering young people through the modelling of positive behavior and emotions. Just as Mandela boldly states, we often teach our young people how to deal with emotions by example. But how can we effectively teach people to be positive and self aware if we are unable to identify and model it ourselves? In order to cultivate a culture that promotes self-awareness and confidence, we must become aware of our own ‘triggers’ that can ignite a negative emotion and learn to diffuse the feeling before it evolves into something corrosive that permeates the emotions of young people in our care.

In his publication ‘Why adults strike back: Learned behavior or genetic code? (1995)’, Nicholas Long reveals that ‘the number one reason for the increase in student violence in schools is staff counteraggression. While staff do not initiate student aggression, they react in ways that perpetuate it’. Take a pair of tuning forks for example; if one tuning fork is struck then the other fork will begin to vibrate, modelling the reaction of the first fork. People are no different: we mimic and absorb the negative emotions of others and often create more conflict as a result. Thus, in order to influence behavior, we must learn how to self-regulate our own counteraggressive actions. By training ourselves to be more self-aware and insightful about our own feelings, we can create more rewarding and purposeful relationships.

For further information concerning a student’s conflict cycle, see the full article at http://www.cyc-net.org.