The traditional idea around a New Year’s resolution is often the idea that a person must rid himself or herself of a bad habit. Simply labeling something “bad” leads to feelings of guilt and shame. However, when examining behaviors considered “bad”, they are often behaviors used to reduce stress. Clients use behaviors to increase the amount of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin to the brain. What is undesired is a behavior that is toxic or unhealthy to achieve these results. When this is considered, the answer becomes clear that when a Coach can assist a client in finding new, health supportive, ways to accomplish the same results, real lasting behavior changes will take place.
Implementing a New Way to Achieve Results
Identifying positive actions toward stress reduction is the goal. Let us take for example a woman who would like to be fit in the upcoming year. First, a discussion about the times and situations that she participates in activities that are counter to her goal is needed. Does she eat high caloric fatty foods when she is stressed or lonely? What is her activity level? What foods does she commonly eat? Once Coach and client have an understanding of the underpinnings of the behavior choice that is unsupportive to the client’s goal, developing long-lasting solutions to implement the same chemical results for her in a way that is supportive of her goal becomes clear.
If for example the client eats when she feels stress, help her to identify other ways of managing stress to achieve the same neurological results. Help her to put a new default message in the place of going to eat cake to feel better. Perhaps the Coach may suggest a brisk walk or a session of yoga to increase feelings of endorphins. There are alternative ways of reaching the same biochemical results to feel happier and at peace that works to reach her personal fitness goal.
A Change of Scenery
In addition to finding new ways to achieve the same biochemical goals, it is important when changing deeply engrained behavioral patterns to assist the person in a change of his or her environment. Take a moment to think about how your environment is a part of your daily routine. Now imagine if in the middle of the night someone came in, rearranged your kitchen, and turned your furniture in another direction. Now, behaviors that were almost unconscious become activities that require a higher level of concentration and mindfulness. Perhaps the physical changes cause you to think about your daily rituals, perhaps leading you to question the usefulness or necessity of certain activities. Changing a person’s environment causes the person to become more mindful or conscious of the activities they participate in and mindfulness causes deliberate behavior instead of the almost unconscious behavior patterns people develop which can become unhealthy patterns over time.
Now let us revisit our female client. If she placed her high calorie snacks on a higher shelf, requiring greater effort to access them, resulting in a moment to ask, “Do I really want a snack or do I just feel stressed in the moment?” This moment to ask the question can offer her the opportunity to take a few cleansing breaths and think about the stress trigger. Many times just a few deep cleansing breaths are all it takes for a person to readjust the neurochemistry that is happening in her body. Furthermore, she can take a moment to fire up a new synapse path that leads to the strategy her Coach and she developed in session as a better alternative in a stressful situation that she might feel better in a new way and still be able to maintain her goal of being more fit for the New Year. Encouraging clients to change the environment around them to support their new goal encourages longer lasting success for a resolution.
Making Mindful Choices
The most powerful attribute that understanding neuroscience for behavior change can teach is the ability to optimize a person’s decision making process by making mindful choices. As our client example shows us by encouraging her to make mindful choices throughout her day to support her goal, designing her environment to support her goal, and by making small obtainable goals that she may gradually implement to her routine she will be successful. Perhaps she will choose lower calorie choices instead of full calorie choices to eat when she is hungry. Maybe she will exit her bus at the stop before her usual stop in order to incorporate more exercise into her routine. The conscious choice not to purchase high calorie snacks to bring into her environment or the ability to develop recipes that are more healthy but still taste delicious can all be mindful conscious choices she makes to reach her goal.
One bit at a time
Lasting success is a gradual process. It is important to have each client develop one small goal a month that is easy to incorporate into her daily routine. Success is its own reward, reward chemicals will be stimulated within a client with each subsequent success. This chemical reward in itself can be an alternative source of obtaining the feeling of happiness and success that clients desire which will lead to a long lasting change for any client’s New Year Resolution goal.