It’s that time of day when your boss is pressing for some deadline that you just can’t meet or your unwinding for the evening with something fried and salty on the couch before bed. Whatever the time, whatever the reason, there is probably a time of day that you find more difficult to keep the ship sailing in your chosen direction.
The science of habit characterises the process by cue, routine, reward. I know for years I battled a finger biting habit, after working a stressful management role that required a 3 hours commute daily, the cue was: starting the engine. The thoughts about work would flood my brain and before I know it, I was chewing my fingernails. One of the most potent cues for human behaviour is the time of day.
When we analyse the food diaries and notes that accompany them, there is typically a time of day that people find it more difficult to ‘maintain their will power’ or ‘stick to the task’. Truthfully, though, will power is overrated.
Picture this mother of 3:
4:30am: alarm goes off, lorna janes on and off to the gym for her 5am pump class before racing home
6am: get the kids ready
7am out the door running kids between daycare, kindy and a new starter at school.
8am final drop off (with tears) and then a hustle through traffic to her desk by 8:30am.
3:00pm leave the office to do the pickup.
This mum is being paid for 4 days per week of work but truthfully working 5 because the 1 day from home a week is spent ‘catching up’.
Now tell me by 4pm on Thursday after a full 4 days of this with 63 emails in her inbox and the kids finally at home whether it’s her will power that prevents her from bypassing the 'Turkish Delight' to the carrot sticks and hummus?
By 4pm this lady’s bandwidth is at its limit, we have maxed out her data and we’re waiting for a recharge overnight.
Better still right now we can get an instant fix, a hit of glucose straight into the bloodstream and a dopamine hit in the brain from the taste of that sugar! Old Mr Carrot and Hummus is taking a knife to a gunfight if he thinks he is winning this war!
While I’ve taken some artistic license here you can hopefully see what I’m saying, for this mum it is that afternoon period, for workaholics it is mindless snacking while working late, for busy dad’s it may be the unwind when the kids are finally to bed, some ice cream or a glass of red or both?!? The news isn’t all bad though, recognising this pattern is the first step and in our work we achieve this through the food diary. Then we work on strategies to take the ‘will power’ out of the equation. With the example above, at 4pm, this mum has eaten nothing since midday. 4 hours without food. This is all while achieving a full days work, kids drop off, pick up, workout in the morning and knowing she will be back on the laptop once the kids go to bed. On the hunger scale she is likely a 2-3 and fading fast. What if we bulked her lunch up with some low GI carbs like quinoa or planted some ready-made snacks in the office fridge specifically for the drive to work to school? If we can prevent her from getting to that level of hunger in that time of day, then we will probably see a change in behaviour. The second effective step is to invert the law of behaviour change. Behavioural Science researcher James Clear in Atomic Habits talks about, making it invisible. Remove access to the routine of the chocolate in the fridge. Place the 'Turkish Delight' to the back of the fridge. Make them less obvious.
The other point of significance is support. With the individuals I work with, this is when I schedule their nudges. At a period of the day they find more difficult than others. Our environment and human connection is responsible for a lot more than we are consciously aware. Relationships change behaviour both for the better and worse. If in that moment of doubt at that point of the cue, you can be reminded of a positive relationship in your life through a message or pre-discussed visualisation we can empower you to ride the wave of emotion beyond that point. A handy tool used is the choice point, equipping you at that moment with a choice, one we are often unaware of because of the automatic nature of these habits.
What are you doing at your tough time today? Will you move away from your goals or towards them?
Thanks for reading