Is behaviour change individual or social?
A lot of stuff I hear about forming new habits is solo stuff: making your resolution, writing it down, creating a routine, monitoring the progress, realising success. It’s all just you. If it’s about losing weight, I get advice about joining a gym or finding a workout that works for me. If I want to stop smoking, buy a pack of the nicotine chewing gum. If I want to eat out less and cook more at home, well, start cooking in your kitchen, folks would say.
The problem is, it feels very lonely. Yet, humans are social animals. So, it makes me wonder, is behaviour change hard because it’s isolated and anti-social?
The steps to form a new habit are straightforward usually. They’re simple, even if not easy. But there’s no social component to them, where there’s someone patting us on the back every time we stick to our resolution, or others are watching encouragingly as we sweat it out on the treadmill. The monumental feat of showing up, not giving in to temptation and doing what we are supposed to go seems to go unnoticed. No recognition whatsoever.
This makes it feel unrewarding to stay disciplined. Why bother, if no one is noticing the hard work or the sacrifice?
Any habit takes time to form, so during that formative phase (21 or 30 days, depending on who you ask), it’s crucial to be applauded. It’s during this time that it feels like we’re not making any progress while experiencing the deepest pain and anguish as we try to shed our old skin.
I think I would like someone to notice me when I’m on my journey, not just when I’ve reached the destination. The oohs and aahs after melting a few kilos are pleasing, to be sure. My question is, why hold on to them till the end? Why not distribute them throughout. We all know how motivating it is to hear praise. When we hear the compliment, in fact, it reenergises us, we recommit to our goals.
So, here’s a suggestion. If you know of someone who is trying to change something about themselves – learn a new skill, stop doing a bad habit, or something else they want to reinvent about themselves – check in on them from time to time. Appreciate the fact that they’ve been at it for a number of days or weeks. Congratulate them for keeping at it. Acknowledge what a challenge it is and what a champ they are for persevering. You might just be the difference in a smoker turning a new leaf, an overweight person creating a healthier body, or an aspiring writer getting published.