What it takes to make or break a new habit

By Jennifer Adams, Head of Financial Wellbeing at B贸 | September 12th 2019

If breaking bad habits and picking up good habits was easy, then we鈥檇 all be on top of our To-do lists, super-fit and on time for work everyday. But we鈥檙e human and our brains are hardwired to choose comfort and pleasure over discipline and denial.

However, once you know a little bit about how your brain works, there are things you can do to up your chances of success and make it easier to stick to a new habit, even one like getting out of bed without hitting snooze.

So first things first鈥

Get science on your side: Think carrots not sticks聽

The data tells us that if you want to sustain a new habit, you need to think about the change you want to make in a positive way.聽

Let鈥檚 say you eat too much chocolate over Christmas or overdo the cocktails on holiday. You鈥檙e feeling bloated and unhealthy and it鈥檚 these negative feelings (or stick) that motivate you to get back to the gym. And the first two weeks are great. You鈥檙e eating salad and lifting weights, but then you fall off the wagon and stop making progress. If this is all too familiar, don鈥檛 beat yourself up.聽 We all do it.聽 And the reason we do, is down to the lack of something called 鈥榩ositive affirmation鈥.聽

Win by finding your happy

If it鈥檚 a negative emotion or stick (e.g. feeling overweight and unfit) that鈥檚 spurring you to make lifestyle changes, you might find yourself sliding backwards. That鈥檚 because the human brain is not incentivised to give up sweet treats and other things it likes. So what you need to give it instead, is a more appealing carrot; a positive affirmation or goal that excites you. This will satisfy your brain that good things are on their way and make it more likely you鈥檒l stick to your new habit.

Setting off on the right foot聽

In practical terms, if you want to motivate yourself to make healthier lifestyle choices, you need to shift your attention towards focusing on the positive outcome you want.聽 For example, imagine how good it will feel to wear a dress you love to a friend鈥檚 wedding or fit into an old suit once you鈥檝e lost a few pounds, or even, how amazing it will be to chase your kids round the park without getting out of breath.

If you鈥檙e trying to save or cut down your spending, don鈥檛 focus on what you are giving up in the here and now, but instead start picturing what you鈥檙e really aiming for.

It鈥檚 the same with money 聽

The stress we feel when we鈥檙e in debt and clocking up interest, should be enough to make us more careful with our cash so we don鈥檛 overspend, but often it鈥檚 not. That鈥檚 because feeling guilty about overspending or worrying about being in debt are negative emotions. And although we all want to avoid these feelings, they don鈥檛 give your brain anything else desirable to 鈥榝ocus鈥 on when you鈥檙e tempted to buy something.

Replacing sticks with carrots聽

So if you鈥檙e trying to save or cut down your spending, don鈥檛 focus on what you are giving up in the here and now, but instead start picturing what you鈥檙e really aiming for. For example it could be being able to treat a friend to lovely gift for their birthday or being able to afford to buy a dog you鈥檝e always wanted. Both of these things speak to the brain鈥檚 desire for happiness and the clear visualisation of this will help you stick to your plan.

Getting into a routine

So how do habits relate to getting better at money? Well for most of us, doing better at money will involve developing some new habits, so they become part of our day-to-day. So if you鈥檙e thinking about making changes, you can read my next blog for a step-by-step guide that will get you thinking differently about things.聽

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