Pallavi Pinakin presents six tips for positive transformation in the New Year

Addiction is a tough enemy to defeat. Even if you’ve desperately wanted to kick a bad habit to the kerb, you may not have managed to do so as yet. And that’s probably not for lack of trying! Whatever your nemesis – smoking, procrastination, smartphones, junk food or poor communication – the harsh truth is that firm resolve usually isn’t enough to ensure lasting change.

Sure, you may have heard anecdotes about people who quit cold turkey and managed to stay clean for years; but they are exceptions. The stories of failure are far more numerous; the only difference is that they’re not as visible.

We tend to overestimate the transformative potential of our willpower. This is understandable given that all our lives we are told: ‘If you can believe it, you can do it!’ But along with that iron determination, what you also need is a thoughtful strategy. Addiction exerts a powerful hold on us and there are definitely times when our defences will be down. It is at those moments that we tend to relapse into old patterns.

Eliminating a bad habit is like a war; it demands a plan of attack and defence, contingency measures, the formation of alliances and so on. Here are some ideas to help you stick to those ambitious upcoming New Year resolutions.

BREAK IT DOWN First and foremost, break down your bad habit into smaller units of behaviour. For example, if you’re an ineffective communicator, figure out what that means: not replying emails on time, failing to check-in regularly with colleagues, playing on your phone during meetings and so on.

Write these down to give yourself greater clarity on the things you need to address rather than a vague goal like ‘I should be better at communication.’

CHANGE OF MILIEU Once you know the behaviour that needs changing, you can start altering your environment accordingly.

Based on the poor communication behaviour noted in the point above, you could stick a Post-it on your laptop that says ‘Reply now!’ or set a recurring fortnightly reminder on your calendar to schedule a team check-in, and delete all the games on your work phone. This way, your future self will be much more likely to follow through.

START SMALL Don’t bite off more than you can chew! Trying to do too much too soon is why most people relapse. Starting small is a much more realistic way to ensure sustainable change.

So if you want to overcome an addiction to sugar, don’t cut it completely from your diet right away. Instead, begin by eliminating the fizzy drink you typically have with dinner. After a few weeks, start having your evening cuppa without the usual spoonful of sweetness… and so on. Emulate the tortoise from Aesop’s Fables – slow and steady!

GOOD INFLUENCERS Peer groups have a powerful impact on us not only during schooldays but all the way into adulthood. One of the main recommendations for addicts is to stay far away from other addicts who encourage bad behaviour.

For instance, if you’re trying to quit smoking it is important for you to stay away from friends who are smokers – at least for a while. Instead, spend more time with friends who have healthier lifestyles. Once you’re confident you can withstand the temptation, you can return to socialising as usual.

SEEK SUPPORT Tell your family and friends about what you are trying to accomplish so they can motivate you. You could also enlist a mentor (someone who has successfully kicked the habit already) or a buddy (someone who is trying to achieve a similar goal).

For example, two people who are trying to procrastinate less could schedule weekly meetings during which they each work on their big goal – be it writing a book, coming up with a business idea or creating art. Online communities are also a great resource filled with advice and encouragement from people who have fought or are fighting the same battle. There are also heaps of great apps that can help you set milestones, track progress and derive instant inspiration when you need it.

UTILISE TOOLS There are plenty of tips and tricks out there that can go a long way towards helping you succeed. For example, something as easy as thinking ‘I won’t’ instead of ‘I can’t’ helps you regain control in a moment of weakness – it is empowering instead of being restraining, which helps you resist temptation better in the longer term.

Then there’s the 20 second rule: delaying your addiction by 20 seconds can create the right conditions for change.

For instance, stow away unhealthy food items on the top kitchen shelf, and place a bowl of fruit and nuts on the dining table. Even such a simple tweak increases your chances of success by placing a barrier between you and the bad habit… and opening the path to something better.