Christmas is all very well, but January is truly fascinating. To those of us interested in understanding behaviour that is. Because in January, many people actively try to change their behaviour in a way that is unheard-of throughout the rest of the year. Health-related resolutions dominate during this period, with many making plans to exercise more, eat more healthily and drink less alcohol. However, regardless of the resolution, permanent behaviour change is uncommon; up to 80% fail to stick to their resolutions by February.

Testament to this, a simple Google search will bring up plenty of suggestions for how to stick to your New Year’s resolutions. According to Fogg’s model of behaviour change, there are three elements that need to converge in order for behaviour change to occur: motivation, ability and a trigger. In summary:

1. Motivation

Change is often driven by cognitive dissonance; a discrepancy between our thoughts and our actions. For example, I want to eat a healthier food because I know it’s good for me, but I like to eat lots of biscuits. When dissonance presents itself, we are naturally driven to rectify this by trying to align our thoughts and behaviours.

2. Ability

Behaviour change needs to be easy. Resolving to eat healthier food, even if motivated to do so, is unlikely to happen if the biscuits are much easier to reach than the fruit and vegetables. It’s no secret that ease of purchase is a key contributor to Amazon’s success.

3. Trigger

In the case of New Year’s resolutions, the start of the new year is the trigger, a fresh start for people mentally. At other times of year, triggers can be anything from reading an article, having a conversation with a friend, or seeing something on TV.

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Why do people struggle to change behaviour?

Whilst motivation encourages people to align their thoughts and actions in those early weeks of January, once the cognitive dissonance disappears, so does the motivation. In order to maintain new behaviours, motivation needs to be replaced by habit. The process of encouraging habit formation is a worthy of an entirely separate blog post but fundamentally, repetition is key. This is the idea behind box subscriptions successes such as Lifebox that tap into people’s desire to create healthy habits.

In terms of making change easy, people often try to make changes that are either too drastic in the amount of effort they require, or are too vague in their how they plan to change their behaviour. Neither makes change easy and reduces the chances of permanent change.

How can brands use this knowledge to encourage people to commit to behaviour change beyond the first four weeks of the year?

Firstly, to encourage behaviour change, brands need to identify a cognitive dissonance that their product or service seeks to resolve. Not only should brands make it easy to access their products/ services, they should ensure that repeat purchase is quick and easy. And of course, to trigger change, the motivation and ease need to be clearly communicated across all touchpoints.

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