carnegieXchange: School of Sport | Blog

New Year, New Me

Last year I wrote a New Year blog about doing things better this year than last.  I listed four easy and do-able options. They were;

  • Combat what has hindered you recently.
  • Focus on the smallest level of meaningful change.
  • Be clear on how long you want the change to last.
  • Record successes (rather than failures).

How did you do against these simple actions? Probably, like many people, your best intentions only got you so far and then you quit on what you had planned.

Perhaps four themes was too much? Let’s go with two things to address. Which of these works best for you; your (a) internal rules or (b) rules outside yourself (physical environments, structures and commitments to others)? With a strong commitment to ‘inner rules’ things will be relatively easy because you don’t get distracted by what surrounds you. The challenge comes for the rest of us who do respond to what surrounds us and, in that process, we ‘sacrifice’ our personal aspirations. If that’s you, building a powerful environment around you will help you live up to your aspirations. The key word in that sentence is ‘building’. That process is down to you. It’s time to recognise that behaviour change is about behaviour building.

Yet, your ‘blew it’ history suggests you aren’t used to doing this. Perhaps you thought that something so easy as eating a bit less or walking a bit more each day would be easy? After all, loads of people in the office do it, how hard can it be? Fundamentally, this illustrates what we already know; humans are pretty good strategists, but poor doers. The more degrees we gather the more strategic (and clever) we think we are. We’ve lost sight of the importance of being able to direct our own behaviour and lost the skills needed to achieve in that in our persistently distracted daily lives.

If this is you, then it is important that you build a strong environment with lots of cues and prompts that suppress your bad behaviours and encourage your best behaviours. Last year it was you who didn’t build a plan for integrating your new plan into your daily life. It was you who failed to build your environment so it ‘triggered’ you into better behaviours. Neither did you build any accountability into your daily life where, say, you would pay £5 to a named charity for every gym session you missed. These are things any of us can do when we take a wide view of what behaviour building really entails; the science shows that these building techniques work and they bring powerful results.

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Professor James McKenna

Jim McKenna is Carnegie Professor of Physical Activity and Health and Head of the Active Lifestyles Research Centre in the Carnegie Faculty.

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