Old habits are easy to break and new habits are hard to form. I should know. I keep stopping and starting at running; an old habit lost that now feels new and difficult to pick up again.
But there’s hope. Through reducing the stress of change by planning and pairing, even daunting challenges can feel achievable.
I once loved the routine of pounding pavements and parks wherever I went. But somehow these days it all feels like so much of an effort. It’s dark. It’s wet. I have a cold. I am too busy. I am too tired. Despite knowing that running is great for me physically and mentally, it’s tough to make it the norm it once was. Depending on what research you read, it takes anywhere between 21 and 254 days to form a new habit. Perhaps depressing reading if, like me, you are trying to make a new (or renewed) behaviour stick.
The Rethinking Parks workshops we held in January required participants to challenge some habits of their own, and try out different styles of thinking. We heard some enjoyed the approach more than others. Over coffee and at the end of workshops we heard some people reflect on how energising the sessions were and others on how hard it is to get out of preferred styles and challenge norms.
Increasingly, we need to be more adaptable to change and to embrace the new and different. So if change is becoming a norm and embracing new habits is hard, where do we start?
At Nesta, we know one approach is to employ techniques that reduce effort and will help people be less afraid of change.
In his acclaimed book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman explains humans intuitively fear the new. Encountering and processing the unfamiliar requires effort and, as a result, feels exhausting. In contrast, the familiar and routine is simpler and puts our minds under less stress. The status quo feels like an easier option, even if it’s not the best one.
Effort is two thirds ‘feel’ and one third ‘do’
We also know that effort is two thirds ‘feel’ and one third ‘do’: meaning if we are aware of what a new experience will require from us ahead of time, we are more likely to feel positive about it. Guiding people through can help transform a frustrating experience (like learning a new software package) into one that we feel positive (or at least neutral) about.
We know too that there is scope to apply some of the techniques used more routinely in the sports world to assist people in planning for change. A good training programme includes working at different intervals; periods of intensity, factors in time for steady effort and of rest. Importantly, training programmes are also tailored to levels of experience. They often plan for quick wins, reward people and then build on that success.
Planning for change
So, we can plan for and make change easier – even when it’s constant change that looks enormous and feels overwhelming at the onset. We can plan out the journey ahead, assisting with the mental adjustment needed in navigating the new. We can seek out help from mentors, coaches and peers who’ve been there before and guide us through the highs and the lows.
Organisations that have been funded by Nesta reflect that a key benefit of working with us is having access to the support and mentoring people need so that they are prepared for, and can affect, change. We are told that the benefits of this support are often valued even more than the funding we provide. We also know the power of being able to share your experiences with others on a similar journey, and so create opportunities for this to happen too.
Our Rethinking Parks programme is designed to help those we fund be prepared for, and embrace change. I like to think of Nesta as not only helping great ideas come to life, but also helping make change the habit. If only we had a running programme!