How successful were you at sticking to a New Year’s Resolution last year, or the year before? Have you tried to lose weight, quit smoking, or get fitter in the past with limited success?
According to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If this sounds familiar, it could be time for a different approach…
Sleeping well is a shortcut to feeling happier, healthier and more resilient. A small change in your sleep habits could help you find more energy, focus, self-control and support from others. So focusing on better sleep could be the catalyst you need to reach your 2022 goals.
What do you need to change a behaviour?
According to Stanford Behaviour Change expert, B.J. Fogg, a new behaviour requires a combination of motivation, the ability to make a change, and a reliable prompt – or trigger – to remind us to act at the right time (Tiny Habits 2019).
Motivation is a bit unreliable – if you’re tired, or busy, motivation drops below the level needed for action, and your prompt may fail. It’s therefore best to keep your new habit as simple and easy as possible, so that you always have the ability to repeat it..
To choose a simple yet effective new pro-sleep behaviour, try and follow this 5 point plan…
#1. Brainstorm: if you could do anything to sleep better, or longer, what would it be?
Step 1 is to get creative. What could you start, or stop, doing in 2022 that would improve your sleep time or quality? Write down all the ideas you have at this stage, even if they sound challenging. For example, if you frequently work late, you might write down ‘stop work by 6pm’. In the next step we’ll work out how to make these ideas more feasible.
If this sounds daunting, set a timer for 2 minutes and see how many ideas you can come up with.
For example.. some ideas to get you started. Which of these are relevant to you?
- Wear ear plugs
- Help my partner stop snoring
- Buy a more comfortable bed
- Fit blackout blinds
- Adopt a more regular routine
- Wind down before bed
- Dim the lights at night
- Drink less alcoholStart the day earlier
- Sleep in a quieter room in the house
- Help the kids sleep better
- Buy a light alarm clock
- Stop scrolling on my phone in bed
- Use blue light filters on technology
- Put my gym clothes out ready the night before
- Work fewer hours
- Work on reducing stress
- Cut back on caffeine
- Lose weight
- Eat more healthily
- Find a CBT therapist to help
- Warm bath before bed
- Tidy my bedroom
- Get out of bed at 7am every day
- Stop eating 2hrs before bed
- Read before bed
- Protect time to make love
- Meditate every day
- Write a daily journal
- Listen to music before bed
#2. Make it easy
Now take your top 10 ideas, and try to come up with a simple, easy and specific version of that behaviour which you could repeat every day. For example, if you wrote “cut down on caffeine” you might want to replace this with:
-“Alternative coffee with water”
-“Only drink decaf tea at home”
-“Drink herbal tea after 4pm”
Or, if your goal is to cut back, one easy way to start this goal is simply to start tracking your caffeine intake:
-“Keep a track of how many cups of tea and coffee I drink for a week”
You might be surprised how monitoring can influence your choices.
If your goals were around work, you might need to discuss this with your colleagues or manager, but perhaps you could start with one night of the week that you will not work beyond a certain time, and build from there. Experiment with a weekly prioritization meeting with your manager to discuss what really has to be done, and what could wait.
The goal of Step 2 is to come up with a list of 10+ ideas which sound do-able to you.. These will be different for everyone.
-Stop eating each night after 9pm
-Set the alarm for 7am 6 days a week
-Only buy decaf coffee for hom
-Wear an eye mask each night
-Take 3 long slow breaths every night
-Start the kids’ bedtime routine at 7pm every night
#3. Map your Sleep Habits to find the Top 1,2 or 3
If you try and change too much at once, it’s likely that you’ll forget after a few days. You will also never know what is making a difference if you change everything!
Instead, map your top 10 habits on the axes below to identify the easiest and most impactful for you:
1.. Impact - is it likely to improve your sleep? Put higher impact habits towards the top. Take a best guess – it may take some trial and error.
2. Ease - how easy will it be for you to do? Put easier habits towards the right, and more difficult habits towards the left.
The sweet spot belongs to actions which are a good fit with your desired future identity (the ideal you), are simple, and impactful.
Focus on no more than 3 habits moving forwards – ideally from the top right quadrant.
#4. Find a prompt
For each habit, try and think of a prompt, or trigger, to remind you to do it. The most reliable prompts are things which anchor the new behaviour with an existing part of your routine, for example, brushing your teeth or having dinner. Other prompts include setting an alarm, leaving yourself notes or asking for help.
Here are some examples…
#5. Celebrate successes!
Feeling positive when you’ve completed your new habit is the key to repetition. How will you savour the sensation of success? Smiling, punching the air, doing a little wiggle of joy.. whatever makes you feel good!
Compare notes with your partner or family – can you support each other to feel good when you’ve met your goals? Perhaps you could treat yourselves to something special at the end of each week when you’ve met your habit goals.
When you’re launching a new habit, it can be really satisfying to tick off your successes each day on a sleep diary. You can download a template for a sleep diary below – simply replace the habits with the 1, 2 or 3 priority behaviours you have chosen.