We are officially in that part of the new year where most resolutions are long gone.
Count me in that group.
This past weekend, Jack brought home about a dozen Auburn students to experience Mardi Gras. I experienced indigestion.
Could it have been the breakfast casserole, Conecuh sausage, German chocolate King Cake, and Ghiradelli brownies consumed? (and yes, I licked the bowl)
When I was younger, I could never muster any empathy for those who make ‘losing weight’ the number one resolution each year…until I hit 40. The older crowd told me that my time was coming, but I just smiled and nodded as I bought my size 32 waist pants year after year.
Then suddenly, and without warning, I found myself looking at the size 34 rack, and then – this is when I knew I had a problem – I bought my first size 36 khaki pants.
My parents laughed their backsides off. I wished I could have done the same.
So, when January 1 rolled around, like millions of other Americans, I resolved to lose weight. I started by reading.
I thought reading might be a suitable cardio workout at the time given my physiological condition, but more importantly, I wanted to know the fastest way to get my waist line back.
I discovered (spoiler alert) that I had to eat nutritious meals only when I was hungry, snack on healthy foods, drink more water, and exercise regularly.
This was not news to me. I knew I needed to do these things, but I didn’t know how.
Then I looked myself in the mirror, both literally and figuratively. I really hadn't changed any behaviors.
I don’t about you, but for me changing behaviors is as uncomfortable as size 32 pants. I found it very enjoyable to sprawl on the couch each night with my ice cream and watch Netflix.
By that time of day, I was in my elastic waistband basketball shorts. I didn’t feel the effects of my behavior until the next morning as I broke out into a sweat wrestling with the button on my dress pants.
So how DO you change behaviors?
According to the latest neuroscience research, you are more likely to achieve your desired outcome if you do these three things.
(1) Add Social Incentives -- in other words, insert your goal in the context of a group. Get 3 friends to join you as you exercise. If you are a leader, make team goals instead of individual ones. We do better when there is a social component to desired behavioral change.
(2) Monitor Positive Progress -- when you monitor progress:
Go light on the negative and accentuate the positive.
For example, which approach do you think works better to prevent teens from smoking:
(1) If you quit smoking, you can improve in sports.
(2) If you quit smoking, you will likely get lung cancer and shorten your life.
Remarkably, it is (1)! For leaders, tying in the employee's individual work to the overall progress of the company is a powerful motivator!
(3) Share Immediate Rewards -- we are an impatient lot, aren't we? So figure out a way to reward people now for an action that they will take in the future.
Example: encouraging hand washing to reduce infections in hospitals improves dramatically when the hospital shows--in real time--the percentage of staff who are complying.
The feedback is immediate and positive.
Notice there is no mention of infections, just the immediate reward of hand washing. The hospital knows a reduction in infections will follow.
For leaders: the take home message to change a behavior:
(1) Social incentives -- frame the behaviors in a group setting.
(2) Monitor Progress -- frame progress in a positive light rather than a threatening or fearful one.
(3) Immediate Rewards -- offer feedback frequently, associating the action with the behavior.
For me? Hang on size 32 waist pants. Daddy's coming back!