Jun 10

“How to Change” by Katy Milkman

Behavioral scientist Katy Milkman‘s new book How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be has scored a slew of solid and glowing reviews.

Why? Elizabeth Weingarten, BehavioralScientist.org:

…Milkman offers simple yet profound insights about why better understanding our own internal obstacles—such as laziness, procrastination, forgetfulness, or our tendency to favor instant gratification over long-term rewards—is key to changing ourselves for good. Too often, books deliver one-size-fits-all approaches to common goals, like getting in shape or eating healthier. But since the internal forces preventing me from starting a new habit might be different from those preventing you from starting the same one, that doesn’t really work. That’s why it’s essential to tailor the science to our own barriers, picking and choosing strategies where they fit the internal opponent we’re up against, says Milkman.

As reported by Elise Hu, NPR, “A decade ago, Milkman saw a statistic she calls ‘completely mind-boggling’: 40% of premature deaths are due to behaviors that can be changed. That’s one reason she wanted to share her findings widely, she says.”

The following are selected quotes from Weingarten’s interview with Milkman:

I think there’s an overemphasis on big goals. It’s not that goals aren’t useful. There’s tons of research showing that having a certain kind of goal—a clear, concrete, achievable goal, or a stretch goal—really is valuable. But it’s not solving a problem.

It’s inevitable that we slip up in the course of trying to achieve anything worth achieving. We need to understand better how to deal with that falling off the wagon phenomenon.

The key lesson of my career studying behavior change was that the flashy shots, the big shiny goal, or one-size-fits-all thing we reach for—that’s not how you achieve it. It’s the smart, strategic, who’s your opponent, who are you up against, let’s tailor the strategy approach that really works.

And here are some excerpts from Bryan Elliott‘s piece regarding How to Change (Inc.):

Milkman says that we have natural moments in our lives where changing or starting something new is more organic and natural. It might depend on the type of change that you’re looking to make. She mentions that there’s pretty much never a bad time to start making healthier choices, but if you’re considering making a major move that might cause upheaval to your life, that there are opportune times to think about making those kinds of bigger moves.

There is an asterisk to the statement above and that’s that while ending and beginning chapters can be good times for change, Milkman says that there is value in making sure you’re “decision-ready” and not just making a choice out of impulse or to try to find normalcy again. For example, if someone is experiencing grief or trauma, it might not be the best time to launch a new career.

Once you know that you’re decision-ready, there’s a huge amount of value in making this new activity a fun one. Whether you’re considering a brand-new job, a major move, or just getting into a healthier lifestyle, Milkman says that when you can make a new attempt at change fun, you’re more likely to stick with it.

Jan 03

New Year’s Resolutions? Or a Different Kind of Goal-Setting?

New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken, goes the saying. Or was that rules are made to be broken? Well, whatever. The thing is, those things—things like that—usually do get broken. I’d quote some grim statistics on this, but I don’t really believe in those either.

According to USA.gov, the most popular yearly New Year’s resolutions are as follows (and why does the government have this kind of info?):

  • Drink less alcohol
  • Eat healthy food
  • Get a better education
  • Get a better job
  • Get fit
  • Lose weight
  • Manage debt
  • Manage stress
  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce, reuse, and recycle
  • Save money
  • Take a trip
  • Volunteer to help others

Issues regarding drinking, eating and exercise, weight loss, stress, smoking, etc….all familiar stuff to therapists and clients.

But if more thought doesn’t go into a resolution than just saying it, it’s just a wish, isn’t it—versus a real outcome that’s likely to happen. For example, you want to cut down your drinking? That’s a resolution. And…so…? Well, good luck with that.

Some things to actually consider: How much will you cut down? By when? Have you done this before? If so, how’d you do? Do you have people you can tell your resolution to and/or report to? Will they be supportive? How can you make the journey an enjoyable choice versus a self-assigned punishment?

Goal-setting can help change that too-broad-based resolution thingie into something more attainable. Make it SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Jen A. Miller‘s New York Times article offers details about how to do this. Excerpts follow:

  • Specific. “Your resolution should be absolutely clear…”
  • Measurable. And, “Logging progress into a journal or making notes on your phone or in an app designed to help you track behaviors can reinforce the progress, no matter what your resolution may be.”
  • Achievable. “This doesn’t mean that you can’t have big stretch goals. But trying to take too big a step too fast can leave you frustrated, or affect other areas of your life to the point that your resolution takes over your life — and both you and your friends and family flail…”
  • Relevant. “Is this a goal that really matters to you, and are you making it for the right reasons?”
  • Time-bound. “Like ‘achievable,’ the timeline toward reaching your goal should be realistic, too.”