[Thinking Aloud] Changing habits

 

“Did you read the book I gave you?”

“Nah, reading is not my thing.”

“Good, stay naive.”

“…”

Just a few days ago, our donor for the Sustainable Home Project, Jim Norgate (Dreams to Beams), visited Urubamba. While at dinner one night, we had a conversation of how keeping one’s own finances can be beneficial. This conversation led to a discussion of having a good habits. Next day, I talked with Jim about how I am struggling to get into the habit of reading. Although many people have repetitively mentioned the importance of reading books, I was never able to get into the daily habit of reading.

Jim responded “so many people think they can change their behaviour or habits easily, but it’s not easy. We must think logically and identify what is the consequence of your habit.” He mentioned the incident that triggered him to gain his habit of reading his early 20’s. It was when his friend told him, “Good stay naive”. He was frustrated at first, but then, this comment motivated him of not wanting to be ‘naive’, and changed his attitude towards reading.

Why is it hard to change habits? When we try to change behaviour, there are limiting beliefs that prevent us from changing our habits. It is a reason which we create internally that we can’t do something. For example, I cannot read because I need to work on other tasks, I do not have time, or simply I do not like reading. These excuses have a higher priority within myself than my will of acquiring a new habit. Indeed, the desire of Jim not want to be ‘naive’ has overcome all these limiting beliefs in himself. Usually there needs to be a triggering event which causes the person to realize the negative habits of their habit to motivate them to change their behaviour.

Nonetheless, my research has indicated that perhaps motivation is not enough to acquire a new habit. There are three R’s principals of habit change: Reminder, Routine, and Reward. The Reminder is the trigger that initiates the behaviour. It is effective to initiate ‘new habit’ in a relation to other already existing habits. For example, in my case, I have started to read a book for 15 minutes before going to bed. ‘Going to bed’ is the already existing habit, and the action of ‘reading book’ is the new habit that I am trying to link with it. Although 15 minutes seems to be a short time for reading, the task is simple and manageable for me to repeat. The Reward is my satisfaction, getting rid of discomfort of knowing “I need to read more…” or “I need to get into the habit of reading”.

This notion of behavious change can help me in forming desired habits in the future. I am in the process of changing my behaviour. The success of changing habits is that I will able to adapt the same strategy to obtain other desired habits. At the same time, this understanding of behavious change is also related to our work at Nexos Comunitarios. One of ways to promote community development is to influence behaviour change in the community. By understanding how a person successfully acquire a new habit, it can show others how to gain a new habit. For example, our objective of traveling soap is to foster proper handwashing behaviour amongst children. Knowing this concept of limiting beliefs and the 3R’s of habit have helped me develop the project design.

First, we must thoroughly explain to the children why they should wash their hands with soap (with a specific demonstration). This demonstration and explanation seeks to stimulate children’s internal motivation to change their behaviour, acknowledging the both benefits and negative consequences of not washing their hands on daily basis. Then, we will install the poster in front of dining room at the school to remind the students to wash their hands with soap, so that the new habit of “proper handwashing” will link with the existing habit of “eating lunch”. To maintain their routine, the ‘handwashing checkmark calendar’ could be set up at dining room so that children would be prompt to do the handwashing to receive checkmark every day. At the end of every month, for children who have completed their ‘handwashing checkmark calendar’, they may receive small rewards such as candies or cookies. This is just an idea of how we can implement traveling soap to successfully influence children to obtain new habits.

Gaining a new habit is not an easy task. It involves high motivation, and 3R of habit principals. As an organization working with community members, seeking to provide a positive influence to stimulate behavioral change to better lives, and learning the psychological aspects of how one can acquire habit, is worth paying attention to. Understanding of the acquisition of habit change may not only help us to develop our desired habits, but also be useful tool for designing community development projects.

 

 

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