I want it all and I want it now, or even yesterday, if that were possible. Who doesn’t love instant gratification? Whether our goal is better health, serious weight loss, managing binge eating, starting a consistent exercise routine, or type 2 diabetes prevention , all of these goals require moving away from old habits. One of the tough things about changing old habits is that we lose the instant gratification the old habits provided. For example, I know that snacking at night when I’m not hungry will not help me achieve my goal of lower insulin levels and better long-term health. However, when some delicious crackers are calling my name from the kitchen at 9 PM, living longer is not at the forefront of my mind. We focus on the here and now in most cases.
The problem that so many of us run into when we are trying to make a change is that we neglect to really reflect on what purpose that old habit served and make sure it’s addressed in our plan for change. Let’s say snacking at night helped me reduce boredom. If I just take away the snacks and hope that my desire for a long life will motivate me to avoid the food, I shouldn’t be surprised when instant gratification wins out and I end up eating.
My plan for not snacking at night needs to provide instant gratification, i.e. quick boredom relief, not a promise of rewards some time far, far into the future. To sort this out, a tool I like to use is a Decision Matrix for Behavior Change, often used in Relapse Prevention. It can help you evaluate both short-term and long-term consequences of behavior and help you fine tune your plan so you are more likely to succeed. Here is an example below:
When using a decision matrix, I primarily focus on the immediate consequences, specifically the positive benefits of the old habit and the negative consequences of the new habit. It helps me to tweak the new behavior to work better for me. In the example above, the new plan of rising early to exercise must address the person’s need for adequate sleep (positive benefit of old behavior) and part of the plan should address how to make eating breakfast and getting ready for work go quicker (avoiding negative reaction to new behavior).
Try working through a decision matrix on a problem habit you are trying to change. Do you find it helpful?