Friday, October 22, 2021

Personal Behavioral Goals

Changing habits is not easy. We set up our environments to support our behaviors in ways that make it difficult to “escape temptation” without careful planning. When we decide we want to change—whether to start something new or to stop something we’ve been doing for a while—the change won’t be successful without some mindful attention to what’s around us (including people!).

A quick google search for creating habits yields dozens of articles, mostly centered on diet and exercise, but not all of our less-than- stellar habits are about food. We might want to create better sleeping habits for insomniacs, better time management for the chronically late, better spending habits for the impulse buyers, and so on. Stopping a bad habit is often much easier than amending a behavior we have to keep in some form. We may find it far easier to stop drinking soda by not buying it, but it’s harder to stop biting our nails, because we can’t get rid of our fingers!

So, where do we start?

First, figure out what you do. Take stock of ALL your habits. Follow yourself through both a work day and a weekend day, and look at how you spend your time. How much time do you spend doing things that are unproductive? Why? What behaviors do you notice that you didn’t realize before? How are your work days different from your days off? All of this information will help you do an informal root cause analysis for the issue you want to address. Using cellphones as an example, our amount of screen time and frequency of use may be factors in time management. When we lose track of time, we are at greater risk for being late.

Once you have a handle on what you do and for how long you do it, think about how those behaviors were supported by your surroundings. When we identify what leads us to behave in a certain way, we can help ourselves by removing those barriers.

Then, set a goal for yourself and keep track of it. Spoiler alert: the goal is not the most important part! You know all those motivational posters that tell you the journey is more important than the goal? Well, they were right. If we can break our goal into smaller, actionable items, we are more likely to succeed. If your goal is to stop being late, you can’t simply stop being late. You can, however, not pick up your cellphone in the half-hour prior to your scheduled departure time, check traffic details to ensure your scheduled departure time is adequate, and resolve not to make unplanned stops along the way. Reward yourself for those successes, too. Rewards reinforce behaviors!

Finally, the most successful goals are the ones we share. Whether you want to work on a goal together or you just want someone to check in with you for accountability, there is power in who (not just what) surrounds us. It’s easier to make good choices when someone is watching! 

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