In this Tougher Minds Podcast, Dr. Jon Finn explains – in simple, straightforward terms – the science of beneficial behaviour change.
Dr. Jon highlights that we can all improve things in our lives and work and change for the better.
But just knowing WHAT to do is not enough. We also need a habit building plan which takes advantage of insights from behavioural science.
He also discusses this in the context of improving your stress management habits.
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Become a Habit Mechanic
Hi Everyone, this is Dr. Jon Finn. Welcome to another Tougher Minds podcast. I’m out walking in the sunshine, which is fantastic. I’m just reflecting, I’ve just actually been editing a chapter from our new book.
And I’m just reflecting on knowledge……moving from knowledge to skill, to habit, this is a core model in, Tougher Minds. One of our, one of our core jobs, if not, our central job is to teach people how to make positive changes. That is how to build new habits is very different knowing how to build a new habit to actually being able to do it to be able to automate that process. So we talk to people and we structure our training in three parts.
One is knowing. So I know why I get stressed for example, I might understand that neurobiological level? I might understand that at a behavioural level, and just understanding why that happens, is really helpful. But once I know why I get stressed, then obviously, I need to learn some insight about how I can manage it more effectively. So again, acquiring some knowledge about what I need to do to start the counter that stress response. We know that we can’t stop stress happening, what we can do is be more proactive in how we manage it so that instead of being negatively impacted by stress for an hour, maybe we can deal with it in 55 minutes, for example. Instead of being negatively affected by a stress for four days, maybe we can deal with it in three days. And some of the things we teach around…….some knowledge, we teach around managing stress better….our frameworks, like our FAB framework, fortunate – adapt – benefit, our WABA – written APE brain argument. But again, just knowing that stuff isn’t going to help you to change behaviour. So once we get some knowledge about what we need to do, we need to put that into practice. That’s what we call the skill. So you’re practising the skill.
From a stress management perspective, the skills connected to managing stress well, in a direct stress response, but we are really about slowing down our breathing, or managing our breathing, regulating our breathing and getting better at regulating our thoughts and then our emotions. And a core way we can do that is via focussed reflection, which is really writing. We have different writing structures, we teach people.
So you got some knowledge about why you’re stressed, you’ve got some knowledge about what you can do. And you can start to practice the skills, you can start to practice reversing the stress response, and more quickly getting your attention back on things that are helpful for you. But that still isn’t enough. What you ultimately need to do is to practice those skills regularly enough. A good stress response or good what I’d call emotional regulation becomes a habit. In order to do that you need to create a habit building plan. To do that, we use the Nine Action Factors.
Just a quick recap of what they are. One is mindset. So you need to……if you want to build better stress management skills you need to believe you can do that’s what we call the mindset. Another factor is the habit factor. We know that we can, we can build new habits, but we can only do it one small habit…..one small change at a time. So if currently, I’m nine out of 10 on the stress continuum (10 being the worst it could be). Or if that’s typically where I am, I’m just in a bit of a stressful period at the moment, I’m not going to all of a sudden move down to the wall on the stress continuum, my might be just to get down to an eight and a half or an eight. So we can only make tiny changes. That’s a habit factor.
I’m going to need to understand why I want to make this change so connected to my bigger goals. So we call that personal motivation. And we teach people things like the FAM story, to tell them to understand that and connect their long term or medium term or short term goals. We’re gonna need some personal knowledge and skills we’re gonna need….. it’s helpful, if we’ve got some community knowledge and skills or social influence. This will be important.
Rewards and penalties will be important. They broadly come in three categories. One is intrinsic rewards, one is extrinsic rewards and one is social rewards……understanding the environmental triggers around us and how that influences our behaviour will be important to understand, so we can get better at managing it. Also recognising our brain chemistry and what we call brain state, so if we want to get good at practising building new habits, we want to be doing a time of day, when we are feeling like we’ve got some mental, some mental charge, some mental capacity. That’s only going to be viable if we’re built in a better sleep diet and exercise habits because they help our immune system, etc work properly.
So there, if we’re going to make positive change, it’s really helpful to think of it as moving from knowledge to the skill to the habit. No one is great. And that’s typically where we see more self-help materials that are out there, whether they’re on the BBC website, or in the Self-Help section of the bookstore or on Amazon or wherever. But actually, knowing is not enough. We need to take that knowledge and put it into practice, and put it into practice regularly enough, so we actually build, change, and we build new habits, we build new neurons in our brain that actually automate the thing that we want to get better at.
And this example is managing stress, it would be implicit emotional regulation. And in order to do that, we really need a habit building plan, which uses the best behavioural science that we understand. That’s why we’ve recorded the Nine Action Factor model. And we use that to help people to build new healthful habits. So we can change that’s the positive news. But we have to be realistic. And we have to be systematic in the way that we do that. And a really simple way to think about that is if you’re going to, we’ve got to move from knowing or knowledge, to skill to habit. And you’re good at what you practice. So you might establish a good new what looks like a habit in the next 30 days or 60 days or 90 days. But if you then spend the following 30 days or 60 days or 90 days practising the old one helpful thing, you’ll revert back to what you were doing previously. So the rule for habits, don’t think about a set number of days that you need to go over the bump to create a new behaviour. Think about your good or what you practice, we’ve got to find really easy ways to make it on a daily basis, easy to practice the new behaviours that we want to build so we’re going to move from knowledge to skill to habit.
I hope that’s helpful…. I hope it gets you thinking in a positive way about some of the changes you want to make both individually and collectively. And we’ll be talking more about some of the Tougher Minds models in the coming podcasts as we continue to, to write our new book. Remember, you can access lots of our training materials absolutely free. And one of the core things that we’re giving away for free at the moment is our Me Power Resilience planner. You can just go to our website, and you can download that for free. Also on our website, you can see the Tougher Minds Foundation course for resilience. Lots of little short videos, really powerful insights just on the home page. Scroll down, you can watch those. Thank you very much. Take care and I’ll speak to you soon.