By Rohini Venkatraman
CREDIT: Getty Images
As you look ahead to the new year, what are you most excited about? For me, it’s the possibility of change and improvement. But despite my best intentions, there’s a powerful force working against my ability to try new things: myself. According to the science of behavior change, there are specific principles that actually make it quite hard for us to shake things up. The good news is that by understanding what they are, you can be more intentional in breaking down the barriers they pose. Here are three principles working against your “new year new you”–and how you can get past them.
1. Bribe yourself.
According to science, we keep our habits not necessarily because they are good, but because we overvalue the present (versus the future). Trying new things is painful both because we may not like the new thing and because we give up something we know we enjoy. We think only about this short-term cost, without considering long-term future benefits. Those benefits feel too vague. We eventually want to experience that future benefit, but not today.
Once you have an idea for a new behavior, start out by incentivizing yourself to try it. This provides a known benefit regardless of the outcome of your new behavior. Say your resolution is to do one productive thing each morning before checking your email. Promise yourself a coffee for every day you follow this goal. Slowly, you will be able to build your habit without the need for the incentive.
2. Find an evangelist.
Whether we recognize it or not, we are overconfident about our choices. Even when we haven’t tried all our options, we are certain about what they might be like–and we are certain that our status quo is the best option. This overconfidence holds us back from trying new things that may be better for us.
Say, for example, that a mentor suggests you try a new leadership tactic or design tool. Identify someone who swears by one of the alternative options. Ask the person to give you his or her best pitch for why you should switch. This may help to deconstruct your ingrained overconfidence.
3. Make a list (and check it twice).
Each time we behave in a certain habitual way, we are acting on autopilot. We are not actually making intentional, thoughtful decisions. For example, going to the grocery store and choosing the soda you always buy is not an actual choice. You are simply following your routine.
For any resolutions that involve making better choices, for example, eating at less expensive restaurants or buying less expensive brands, make a list of your actual choices. What are three less expensive restaurants than the ones you typically choose? What are three less expensive brands than the ones you typically choose? Then, choose something off this list.
Even when we know we should try new things, our routines and habits make this difficult to do. But understanding why will allow you to be more intentional about your behavior change. Now, you just have to convince yourself to try one of these new methods.
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