Last week we looked at how to break down our habits into the cue, action and reward loops and how these automatic processes often result in poor health choices. Have you mulled over any of your habit loops since last week?
When you've been asking friends for help, have you been telling them about the importance of these habit loops? While it’s possible you may find they're fascinated by this process of change, it’s more likely that their eyes will glaze over once you start explaining how you realised the 4pm biscuit you snacked on was really a substitute for a short break and that your new habit of taking a walk around the block is much better for you. And so on.
To enlist the help of friends without boring them, use the tried and tested method of SMART goals. This concept has been around for so long it’s unlikely that you haven’t heard of it but as a quick recap, SMART stands for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed. A fuller list of potential meanings could also be read as:
SMART goals are often cited as useful management tools to help teams work smoothly so it makes sense to employ this strategy when asking other people to help you.
Here is the difference between a goal and a SMART goal.
Goal: Get thinner
SMART goal: Cut out treats and puddings to reduce calorie intake by 300 calories per day by to lose 3lbs over the next 4 weeks.
Goal: Be fitter
SMART goal: Make stairs easier to climb by increasing cardiovascular fitness during the summer by leaving car at home and walking daily to and from work.
Both of these SMART examples provide strict instructions on the goal in order to be specific. They also take into account the method of testing and retesting to be measureable, the ability level of the person to be achievable, the facilities they have to hand to be realistic and the timescale for completion. They are also easy to share with others and any deviation from the goal will be obvious to you and your helper.
Write a SMART goal now that a friend can help you with.
Now that you have your SMART goal, explain it to your friend and tell them how you think they can help you achieve it. They may have other ideas so be open to suggestions, they may have knowledge and skills you don’t know about and could offer better support in a different way. Be clear if you want your friend to help you with only one component of the goal, you may not want them asking you if you’re out of breath while you walk up the stairs every morning.
You may find that your friends’ energy, like your willpower, dissipate after a while and they become less attentive to your goals. Hopefully this will coincide with your natural formation of better habits and you will need less input from them as time goes on. If you need to maintain their interest in your efforts, keep telling them specifically how their support helps you. For the weight loss SMART goal, you may want a work colleague to make sure you don’t eat the birthday/holiday/just because it’s Friday cakes which seem to appear in the office. Explain how difficult it is for you to say no, especially on a Friday afternoon, and how their keen supervision at that time keeps you from tucking in.
When you have achieved success, let them know specific occasions where their efforts helped you, for example ‘remember the coffee cake at Stacey’s birthday? I really needed you then – thanks!’ They’ll feel proud they could help, they’ll understand your trigger points and be better focused at keeping you on track.
Next week we'll look at the Pitfalls of asking friends for help and how to manage them.