How to make your resolutions work!

Post By Claire Lichtwark-McInnes

It’s that time of the year again. I have decided to support my weight loss achievements with some fitness goals. I am reflecting on how many of my last years plans worked out, on what worked and what didn’t.

How many of us have just made promises to ourselves that we know are unlikely to become a reality? This is not a reason to stop having goals whatever the time of year. It is a reason to make sure your goals are smart. Remember this? S.M.A.R.T. It stands for Specific Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed.


Thinking firstly about specific. It is not enough to say to yourself I will get fit this year. Or even I will take up a new sport this year’. What will that mean in reality? What is fit? How fit? How will you get fit? What sport? An example of a specific fitness goal might be ‘I will take up running’.


How will you know when you have achieved your goal? An example of measurable would be ‘I will complete a 10km run.’


So many people fall by the wayside on fitness goals by attempting too much. Big hairy goals like ‘I will compete in an ironwoman event’ simply does not fit into most lifestyles.


Is it something you even want to do? ‘ I will take up running’ is not realistic if you hate running. Even if you like running, are you really going to complete a marathon or would you just like to run a couple of kilometres twice a week?


When do you hope to achieve your goal? Still needs to factor in achievable and realistic.

An example of a S.M.A.R.T fitness goal might be ‘I will complete the 10km fun run which happens in my town on the 8th of April’.

Then you actually have to make a plan that will get you there. Work out how you will increase your fitness level in time. Schedule your training. Maybe get advice on how much and how often you should train for this event. Most events provide information of this kind.

Enjoy your success!

Until next time,

Claire x

Weight-loss andMe: Finally putting my money where my mouth isn’t.

Post by Claire Lichtwark-McInnes.

I don’t remember how long it took for me to get fat.
I just know it happened.
I now understand much more about why it happened.
During my weight loss journey, I have been encouraged to think about why I decided to take action, what were the defining issues?

I was very uncomfortable. So my main driver, my  ‘why’ for taking action was I wanted to be comfortable.

I had also noticed I was losing my natural confidence in social situations and I wanted some nice clothes.  Wearing tents gets stale after a while.  I had given up on the idea of looking good as I  had long since stopped looking in the mirror for fear of what I would see.

My Three Cs

Now 16 months later and 17kg lighter, all on a frame only a smidge over five foot, I still carry a card that reminds me of my why,  my three C’s: Comfort, Confidence, Clothes.

Where will it end?

You might ask – how did the journey begin? And where does it end?

To answer the last question first, and potentially to disappoint you … doesn’t end.
I am not on a diet I am making healthy choices.  I expect the choices I make to continue for life.

It started in April 2018, fed up with not fitting clothes, feeling uncomfortable and looking like crap (see above), I decided to go to Weight Watchers, now known as Wellbeing that Works or just WW.

I was not looking for a quick fix, but a long term solution.  I still have 9kg to go to reach goal weight, I am not in a hurry it is slowly but surely happening.

I chose WW to support my journey as I like their approach, central to which is understanding that weight-loss is more about mindset than food.  I have a lot of supportive family and friends few of whom have ever been fat.  As much I love them, as tangible support – they are fairly useless.  Real support comes from people who have been there, WW ticked this box for me too.

While losing weight I have been on an Alaskan cruise, had long holidays, attended celebrations and generally lived life to the full.  I  do not feel deprived.  I even had the privilege of dropping into WW meetings in America. This really added to my travel experience, meeting real locals with shared goals and experience to me.

To achieve my goals I make small but frequent changes.  I substitute avocado for butter, olive oil for canola, have more fish and chicken than red meat, more fruit and vegetables, and less sugar. My diet now contains way more variety and way more taste than previously.  I no longer eat something if it isn’t really nice. 

Looking at my journey alongside the Mental Health Foundation’s five ways to wellbeing model is enlightening.


Talk, listen, be there feel connected. – my chosen support group is WW.  I find it powerful and inspiring to hear of others successes and challenges.  It’s nice not to be alone.  I get great advice and friendship from the coaches and members.  I have attended meetings in several countries and guess what!….    the challenges are the same wherever you go.  I intend to continue to use this support forever.


…your time, your words, your presence. I enjoy supporting other members when they speak of challenges that are all too familiar.

Take Notice

Remember the little things that give you joy.  Taking time out to sit with a coffee and the daily crossword is huge.  I’m never too busy to do that now.

Keep Learning

Embrace new experiences, see opportunities, surprise yourself.   I love my new paddle-board ……. Sometimes I stay upright …….sometimes not.  I’m looking forward to my first book club meeting tomorrow.  I also love learning new recipes and new ways to cook.

Be Active

Do what you can, enjoy what you do, move your mood.  I’m lucky I have no physical hurdles to exercise so I enjoy riding my bike and swimming and I keep fairly active on the farm.   However, WW teaches even small things to get moving, gentle walks or chair exercises for example.
I have also learned to understand when I eat even when I’m not hungry, why I do. What my triggers are, how to manage them and how to be kind to myself when I am not perfect. Progress not perfection is the key.

Even at this stage of the journey, I try on clothes in front of those terrible fitting room mirrors without descending into misery.  I enjoy my exercise instead of it being a chore.
I am now looking to expand this knowledge to other areas of my life.  I will keep you posted as I go.

Meanwhile all the best on your own wellbeing journeys, whatever they are.

Yours as ever,

Claire  X

NB: I receive no monetary or other payment from  WW, I am simply sharing what has worked for me, there are other great systems out there – the trick is finding one that works for you.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Welcome to the conclusion of the science (or not) in the 7 habits of highly effective people.

Habit 7 involves sharpening the saw.  In this case, the saw is you.  You will only effectively cut that metaphorical tree if you are sharp as … well … a saw.

Covey’s opening parable drives this home.  We meet a hard working chap furiously cutting a tree with a blunt saw.  A passer-by suggests he needs to sharpen his saw.  He says (irritably I suspect) “I haven’t got time” and returns to his furious sawing.  This is laughable in its absurdity – who would do this?  Now, look closer where are you or someone in your life: working long hours; running from task-to-task; grabbing food on the run; skipping exercising; or drinking more than you should to unwind?

Time to stop the absurdity and sharpen the saw. Consider sharpening yourself in these four domains:

  1. Physical – sharpen by good eating, exercise and all that jazz
  2. Social – sharpen by connecting to others
  3. Mental – reading, writing, learning
  4. Spiritual – meditation, nature bathing (yes its a thing), prayer, art … whatever is your thing.

I can boldly say the science in this is there as I did my PhD in wellbeing and it covered most of this.  Email me for a copy if you want all the gory details (and an insomnia cure).

It is also a bit of a no-brainer to say that taking time to sharpen your saw is important to achieving all the other habits.

So Habit 7 has come good, not a moment too soon.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me.  It has been a tricky one.  However it has also started me on a bigger journey, that will be tricker by far, but perhaps the most rewarding yet.

Yours as ever,

The Wellbeing at Work Dr.

References links and all that jazz

This is part of a larger series on Stephen Covers 7 Habits, being:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw

Photo Credit:

Habit 6: Synergise

Welcome to habit 6 on the science (or not) in the 7 habits of highly effective people.

Habit 6

Those following so far will know my larger conclusion is pointing to -> trying to find the ‘evidence base’ / scientific support for management gurus ideas, is a fool’s errand.  That is me in the basket, feeling a little sad and blue.

My quest is failing not necessarily because there is no science in the ideas, but because despite the squillion dollar spend on management guru advice, management researchers don’t seem to be researching the efficacy of such heavily implemented ideas and programs.

The good news is there is a book in this … so that will keep me and my co-author busy for many moons (true story we are going to do something positive in this space, stay tuned).

However, let’s just finish off with the final ideas as I have gone too far not to go further.

Habit 6 is about synergy – which is simply when ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’.

Covey argued synergy means – the relationships the parts have to each other is also a part, and the best part to boot.

I have some concerns with synergy as a ‘habit of highly effective people’ as it seems to be more group focused and seems to breach the definition of a habit which google tells me is “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up”, which feels about right and doesn’t seem terribly connected to group synergy? Or is that just me?

It seems that the individual bit is being open to group synergy, for which thinking win/win would help.  I am sorry to say habit 6 is not really working out, I’m not even sure how to find the science in it.  See cat in basket again.

Let me be clear, I am not hating on synergy, the need for it, or the beauty in it – check out the video below for an inspiring tear-jerking story on the power of synergy.  This story speaks to me of creativity, humanity, courage and pride.  Maybe creativity is the other habit behind this ‘habit’.

I am simply struggling to answer my own question – what is the scientific evidence for the idea of synergy as one of 7 habits of highly effective people?  So I quit (which is almost certainly an anti-habit of effective people).  I am very keen for others opinions on this – please post below.

References links and all that jazz

This is part of a larger series on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits, being:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw

Photo Credits:

Playdough Art by Rosie

Habit 3: Put first things first

This post discusses Habit 3: Put first things first, it is part of a larger series looking at the science (or not) of Stephen Coveys’ 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The science that seems most important here in terms of supporting Coveys’ ideas is the goal hierarchy work discussed in Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind


I enjoyed reading and listening to Covey’s thoughts on Habit 3, it felt sensible and inspiring.

So what does he say – well – using the metaphor of photography he says:

  • The wide-angle lens is the big picture, our large goals, values etc.
  • The telephoto lens is all the details and detritus of life, you know: pick up the kids, pay the bills, stop at the red light.
  • The standard lens is a bit like a calendar week.  Almost like a wee subset or even case study of your life.

Covey argues (I don’t think a single one of us would disagree) that when we live at the telephoto lens perspective day in and day out – we are pushed and pulled and rushed and stretched, running from crisis to crisis like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off.

The week is a great place to practice putting first things first.  By focusing on a week in the life of us, we are neither the autumn leaf nor the mountain range, we are both.

The suggestion is to take 20-30 minutes out before your next week begins, and plan it out like this:

  1. Clarify your important life roles e.g. parent, worker, runner, preacher, researcher, project manager, carer, friend, sister, self-carer……
  2. Choose your big rocks i.e., one meaty thing to achieve in each role for the upcoming week – ask yourself “what is the most important thing I could do in this role this week, that would make the most positive difference?”
  3. Schedule these big rocks
  4. Then, and only then, schedule the rest of your week.

Goal Hierarchy Say’s

The discussion and approach above is very consistent with a published concept mentioned briefly in Habit 2, called goal hierarchy.

Understanding the goal hierarchy is best done interactively, so try this, I dare you:

First get a large piece of paper and some pens (more than one colour, hell you can justify a guilt-free trip to smuggle if need be).  Now find a quiet time and place.


  1. In a row along the top, in boxes write your core 5-7 values (here’s a list of useful value words if you are stuck)
  2. One row down, write your major roles in life
  3. Below that write your major project goals (include work and life e.g. get a massive bonus, renovate the laundry, lose 10kgs)
  4. Finally list out your day-to-day tasks, not every one, put them in categories e.g. fitness tasks, or report writing.

What you have should look something like this, without all the crazy lines.

Now draw lines where there are connections between levels.  You can add more granularity by indicating stronger connections with thicker lines and negative connections in a different colour (go the new smuggle pens! I hope you got a red one?).

Now think about what you learnt, go on write it down, you know you want to.

If you did this tasks (within even a little enthusiasm) you will understand deeper the point made in the post on habit 2, that a goal alone is not enough to get you ….. anywhere much.

In preparing this post I reviewed and updated my personal goal hierarchy and had three wee epiphany’s (yes I realise the oxymoronic nature of that but bear with me*).  I understood why I feel so stretched just now.  Secondly I understood why someone in my inner circle (who shall not be named) was feeling neglected.  There were not many linkage lines connected to their box and they did not appear at all in day-to-day tasks – ouch!  I also discovered I have many tasks that are not connected to ANY higher order things (values, roles or goals) what Covey would call Quadrant 4 activities.

Coveys’ Quadrant

Coveys 4 quadrant model is probably the one that has endured most over the years, both for me personally and in conversations with clients.

Working up this post has made me realise it might be time to actually get my tasks on the quadrant to help with that feeling of overwhelm, tasks that are currently in notes on my phone, the fridge the, the car, that Siri has made for me in random places (with spelling worse than mine). It’s one thing to be a list person, it is another thing altogether to be drowning under the weight of so many roles, goals and lists that you struggle to breathe.

So here it is … simple and easy …. draw this quadrant with ‘urgency’ one side and ‘importance’ on the other and write your to-do list down.  Then treat each quadrant differently.  I for one will make a wee ceremonially fire and burn quadrant four …. or call the cleaner (bless you Dee, you rock!)

Take out

My take out from rereading content for this post (as well as my experience of executive coaching) is that it seems logical that putting first things first is a critical success factor (hate that buz phrase but it fits here) for well …. success.  However putting first things first isn’t always clear or easy, especially with so much information coming at us every second of every day trying to tell us it is important and urgent.  We must be ever vigilant, policing our own attention and activity all the time.

Our are your first things?

Next week we will be thinking win-win.

Links, Rerences and all that Jazz.

Unsworth K, et al. Goal hierarchy: Improving asset data quality by improving motivation. Relaib Eng Syst Safety (2011), doi:10.1016/j.ress.2011.06.003

*Did you ask – doesn’t she mean ‘bare with me’? Well, actually no that is a common, but incorrect use of a homophone and would literally mean ‘uncover with me’, which could also be interesting but let’s not.

This is part of a larger series on Stephen Covers 7 Habits, being:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw


Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

‘Begin within the end in mind’ is a neat phrase that gets at the heart of goal setting.  It is also the subject of this blog, which is part of a series looking at the science (or not) of Stephen Coveys 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Covey took his end-in-mind challenge seriously, asking people to think of the ultimate end: their death.  This end-of-life thinking is aimed at helping get at what we most value in life.  As the stunning poem by Mary Oliver asks us; what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

In his book chapter on Habit 2 Covey covers mission statements (personal and organisational), goals, roles, values and more.

So, what is the science of this stuff?

My PhD supervisor, Professor Kerrie Unsworth, has contributed to the science of goal setting, and yes there is science there – but, there is also a but.

This from her:

“yes, goal-setting can help. But it’s not a miracle cure (there aren’t any miracle cures when it comes to people at work; anybody that tells you differently is selling snake oil).”  


Kerrie and her equally smart chums’ research found that self-concordance matters too.  What is self-concordance you might ask?  Loosely, if a task or activity supports your long-term goals, dreams, values and important roles in life, then it is self-concordant.  Then (and only then) you are going to be motivated to do it.  Maybe even if it is downright horrible, or your boss is pressuring you to do it.  As Dr Elisa Adriasola (Chile) says it’s like changing dirty nappies – no fun, no one wants to – but it’s so important to your role as a parent, you just do it.

So what do other academics say?  Searching all articles with “goal setting” and ‘review’ or ‘meta’ in their title – bought me a few ideas:

  • Research considering goal setting in the work setting concluded that goal setting in groups helps group performance.  But, only under certain circumstances and conditions (Kleingeld, van Mierlo, & Arends, 2011).
  • A summary of 35 years of goal setting theory (Locke & Latham, 2002) provided lots of info including – difficulty is important (you don’t want things too easy nor too difficult, although actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that); and success is dependent on good feedback systems (i.e. to know how you are tracking towards your goal).
  • But. Wait. There is more.  A review of diet and exercise changes and goal setting found … um … inconsistent results (Shilts, Horowitz, & Townsend, 2004).

This all makes me think this: half an idea is a bit like half a car.  That is, goal setting alone, not implemented well or linked to what really matters, won’t take you far.  The trick is knowing how to implement your goals best in the setting and situation that concerns you.

My personal take out is:  Watch my goal setting a bit closer, maybe even make some notes.  I’ll first get really clear on exactly how my goals link to my core values (fortunately I’ve been working on this in coaching for 15 years so this bit I’m comfortable with).  However, if that was all, all my goals would be met, would they not?  I’d be ready for my very own end-of-life video.  Hence I’m going to also think about my roles in life, my projects, my short and long-term goals as well as what I value –  this is what Kerrie calls my ‘goal hierarchy’.

Links, Reference and all that Jazz

This is part of a larger series on Stephen Covers 7 Habits, being:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw

Coveys motivational video, watch it, it’s cool:

Quote from Professor Unsworth from – The Leeds University Business school Alumni Magazine 2017 Issue.

Adriasola, M. (2014). Motivation for Multiple Goals at Work: The Role of Goal Hierarchy Self-concordance. University of Western Australia.

Kleingeld, A., van Mierlo, H., & Arends, L. (2011). The effect of goal setting on group performance: a meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(6), 1289.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705.

Shilts, M. K., Horowitz, M., & Townsend, M. S. (2004). Goal setting as a strategy for dietary and physical activity behavior change: a review of the literature. American Journal of Health Promotion, 19(2), 81-93.

The opening paragraph is an exert from The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

The artwork is by my talented tween.

Habits Big & Small: Flossing Investigated

This post is a summary of some research on flossing.  Before you yawn and go to sleep there is more here than meets the eye or should I say teeth?

The authors open with discussing the importance of automaticity i.e., once we have reached auto-pilot with habits, our conscious mind is no longer engaged, a cue leads to an action.  We are also reminded that the link between intention and behaviours weakens as habits increase in their automaticity.

This is another way of saying our conscious mind turns off after a habit is embedded.  This is a great thing for good habits, but a nightmare for bad ones.

Memory matters

Something new in this article (for me at least) is the importance of memory.  I for one, never forget when I am trying to eat better, drink less and other painful things.  However I do forget to take my iron supplements.  It is a specific type of memory that is important here called ‘prospective memories’.  Which is kinda like it sounds, remembering to do something in the future, like take your iron pills tomorrow or stop after one glass.

Placement matters too

Tip: Imbed new habits inside existing routines, which will help ensure that memory is triggered, e.g. when I put down my tooth brush I remember to floss.

Next in the article things get pretty technical, but the gist of it is that it matters exactly where and how we embed a new habit into a routine, to up the chance of success.

To test their ideas the researchers paid 50 people thirty pounds to floss daily.

So who were the winners? What sorts of people trying what sorts of things made flossing a habit?

Well those that had good attitudes to flossing did better, supporting the idea we are not total helpless victims to our habits (thank the good Lord).

Now here is the interesting bit: those that flossed after brushing did better at forming the habit than those that flossed before.

Is flossing after better? No and yes.  It is only better because it has a better, more appropriate cue – finished brushing – ok floss – ah good girl.

When the cue is at the same ‘level’ of detail as the habit, things work better.  If the cue was ‘get ready for bed’ and you put your flossing habit first, you are likely to be less successful as this is a task at a higher level than ‘brush teeth’.

Take Outs

Experiment with your habits and see what works.

Try and imbed new habits within existing routines but not at the start of them, ideally between the lower level steps.  The devil is in the detail… as it were.

Go well in the direction of your dreams, your bed that is, right after you floss!


Judah, G., Gardner, B., & Aunger, R. (2013). Forming a flossing habit: an exploratory study of the psychological determinants of habit formation. British journal of health psychology, 18(2), 338-353.


How and when do habits form?

When behaviours are repeated in consistent settings (places, times, with certain people etc.) they become automatic responses, that is, they become habits.

But how do habits form? How long do they take to form? How is this different with each person? And how important is reward (or reinforcement) in this process?

Rewards: do they matter?

It seems unclear how important rewards are.  The behaviourists (see foot note) think that repetition will only occur (with any behaviours) if there is some reward.  They feel that without reinforcement there is no habit.  However others argue that perhaps the behaviour itself IS the reward, especially in the instance of desired habits.

So how DO habits form?

Phillipa Lally and her colleagues (2010) had a look at exactly this.  They asked 96 students (in truth they paid them 30 quid) to choose a new and healthy behaviour (eating, drinking or excise) and do it for 12 weeks.

Importantly they asked them to do the habit in response to a cue, and not a set time of day.  So it might be: ‘drink water with lunch’ or ‘go for a run when you get up’.

What did they learn?  If you can find your way through the statistics (non-linear regression, asymptotic curves, and more) they found that mostly our habit formation is this sort of shape:

asomyptote of habitynessThat is, an asymptotic sort of a shape.  What does that mean?  It means, there is some sort of ‘point of diminishing returns’ i.e., a point where we are behaving really habity-like.

Although, after that key point we get ever closer to some habit nirvana; the speed of approach to perfect habity-ness gets ever slower.  We have reached some sort of ‘tipping point’ where the habit is embedding enough in our daily lives (just at the hump of the curve).  Obviously we want to reach this ‘hump’ as soon as we can, at least for some habits.  For other habits we want to get far, far away from said hump.

How are we all different?

Question: how different are we from each other in habit formation?

Answer: MASSIVELY different!

Lally and colleagues found the time to reach the ‘hump’ on the curve (or put in scientists speak: the time it took participants to reach 95% of their asymptote of automaticity) ranged from 18 days to a whopping 254 days!

The question on my mind, and maybe yours is; how to reach it in 18 days rather than 254 days?  This was unfortunately not within the scope of Lally’s research but it is certainly on my agenda now.

I have a horrible feeling that it might be something to do with core personality or genetics.

Which makes me wonder about the differences between good and bad habit formation, or habit formation aligned with goals versus not aligned with goals.  Which in itself could be confusing as a bad habit might be goal aligned e.g. a teenager trying to impress an older, inappropriate love interest.

There is good news – taking a break won’t kill it or you.

The good news is, missing a day in your new habit isn’t that serious to your habit formation.  Missing one day did make the next day habit-y-ness a little less strong, but not in a way that was statistically significant.  Which is just scientist speak for not enough to make any sort of meaningful difference.  And most crucially it did not affect the path of the graph.

How many missed days it takes to make a difference (i.e. break the habit forming path) was not looked at.

Take outs

It is hard to know what I will take away from this one, not knowing my own story i.e how would I compare to the data here? What is my number of days to each my 95% asymptote?

Perhaps I will plan for the worst, put very strong systems’ in place until much, much more than 18 days after starting a new habit.

What about you? What are you taking away? Drop a comment below.

Footnotes, references and all that Jazz

This post is based on the below article. It is part of a series on habits. Select habits from the drop down on your right to see other awesome posts on the topic (modesty will be the next series).

Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C. H., Potts, H. W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European journal of social psychology, 40(6), 998-1009.

Behaviourism is a type of psychology focused on observable actions, what we say or do or don’t say or don’t do, rather than focusing on emotions and stuff.  Clearly there are some criticisms of behaviourism, but it has still taught us a lot and is interesting from the perspective of habits, which are behaviours really huh?

Art by my talented Tween.

Changing Circumstance, Disrupting Habits

Habits are automatic

How much did you today that was simply a repetition of yesterday?

Was your breakfast similar? Maybe it was different but you sat in the same chair or ate it at the same time?

What about the order of your morning ablutions? The route you took to work?  The irresistible snack you choose from the snack machine, around the 3pm slump?

Many of our habits are not only frequent but we do them in certain (usually stable) circumstances, or in response to set triggers i.e. given times, certain ways of feeling or things in our environment.

Over time our habits become ‘triggered’ automatically by certain internal and external things and of course stuff.

But don’t intentions matter surely?

Habits are different to conscious intentions.  Walking into a dark room is likely to have you reach for a light switch without any conscious thinking at all.  It is perhaps not surprising that different brain bits are involved in these different processes (specifically the neocortex for habits and the hippocampus for making novel decisions not triggered by repetition or environment).

But yes it seems that your conscious intentions may also have some influence over your habits, just maybe not as much as you would like to think.

Shake things up

So what happens when life changes (temporality or permanently), when naturally our cues and daily routines are altered dramatically?  Wood, Tam et al. (2005) considered exactly this.  They looked at what happened to students when they moved between universities in three key habits; exercise, reading the newspaper (I know who does that anymore – right?), and watching TV.

They were interested in how circumstances, intentions and habits work together, or against each other, to maintain or change habits – after a move that naturally disrupted daily triggers and cues as well as potentially intentions, and of course social networks and systems (which are also important in habits).

They found context was key in whether certain habits travelled from the first living environment to the second.   However these changes were also influenced by what intentions were set in the new environment.

In summary, the relatiohip between environment, intention, and automatic appears complex and interwoven.

Wanna Quit Smoking? Take a Holiday!

This research helps us understand the anecdotal idea that changing major life habits is easier when say we take an overseas holiday, move houses change or relationship status (is it just me that notices friends in love get a little plumper?).

However before you book your next trip, or end your relationship to get into your swimsuit – is it really that simple? Each person has their own daily triggers and their own specific intentions (driven of course by their own life story, values, personality etc).  Hence understanding why Jack quit smoking on his Bahamas holiday but Joanne took it up on her African Safari, is not that easy.


Take away

So what is the take out?

I’m taking a long hard look at the internal and external triggers as well as intentions on each of my good and bad habits.  The challenge I suspect is how subconscious much of this is.

I do notice I am writing this with a glass of wine in the ‘usual spot’ within easy reach of my left hand (I’m left handed).  Is this triggering my writing, or the writing trigger my wine-ing?  What of my intentions to drink or write, or write while drinking?

I am uber keen to hear about your habits and intentions.  Drop me a comment below.

Footnotes, References and All that Jazz

This blog is part of a larger series on habits (if you click the word habits in the image you’ll get others).  This blog is focused on the article below of the same title, published in 2005.   Academic knowledge does not turn over like celebrity news and just because it isn’t this weeks news doesn’t mean it does not have something profound to teach us, that just might make our lives better.  In fact, I think it does.

Wood, W., et al. (2005). “Changing circumstances, disrupting habits.” Journal of personality and social psychology 88(6): 918.

Wellbeing: The Catch is You!

The problem with most home or work-based wellbeing programs is people. Yep. People. People get in the way of themselves.  Time and time again.  Oh and again.

This brings us to another topic I follow i.e. habit change.  Mastering your habits is fundamental in maintaining your wellbeing.

Even threat of death might not work

Guess how many people are not taking the medications that will very likely save their life, six months after a heart attack?  Fifty percent.  Yes.  You read that right.  One in two people do swallow the pills that will (probably) save their lives.

Just imagine what the statistics are for difficult wellbeing habits e.g. exercising and eating right.


What to do? What to do?

You can start with my 8 tips to get control of your habits.

But wait there is more, consider also:

  • Riding the wave: of enthusiasm that is.  Starting with a big bang and lots of activity might just help push you through your first slump.
  • Pick a good day to start.  Pick a fresh start day, the start of the week, a birthday, the beginning of a month.

More science is coming!

I am excited to say that 50 scientists have teamed up with a gym to offer free programs and collect data to learn more about the science of habits.  I am sorry to say it’s in America.  If you are reading from there check it out.   If not, one of the related links had this tool that worked for me in New Zealand.  Apparently, I am starting exercising tomorrow.

What next? What more?

With my passion for wellbeing at work – the question on my mind now is: how well are wellbeing programs building in serious support for habit change?

Links, References and all that Jazz