Six Steps to Better Habits

thumbs upChances are, you made a number of firm resolutions at the start of the year—and, if you’re normal, you failed to live up to several of them. Is there a better way to stick to your sincere resolutions to get more exercise, eat better, floss more often and lose weight?

A recent report suggests that there are actually six ways to improve your follow-through on self-improvement. The first is to start with a keystone habit, like exercise. A keystone habit is one that improves a variety of other habits by helping you see yourself in a different way. If you exercise, you tend to feel better about your body, eat more healthfully and procrastinate less often—a three-for-one deal.

Second, start small. If you want to floss more often, start by flossing just one tooth. Yes, that sounds silly, but eventually, if you start lazily, you’ll get in the habit of having the floss in your hand once or twice a day, and you’ll address those other teeth in your mouth. If you start off too ambitiously, meanwhile, the habit is never formed in the first place.

Third: make a plan for how you’re going to follow though on the resolution. One interesting study showed a group of students photos of what could happen to them if they failed to get a preventive tetanus shot. Another group were given a map to the clinic and were helped to put an appointment on their calendar. Guess which group showed up to get the shot? 28% of the students who left with a plan followed through on it, while only 3% of those who saw the awful consequences of contracting tetanus got the shot. Writing down your goals, and putting your times to exercise on your calendar, can improve your odds of keeping your resolution.

Fourth: bribe yourself. Pick something you want, and give it to yourself only if you follow through on your resolution. One study participant wanted to listen to the audio book of the Hunger Games, so she only allowed herself to listen to it at the gym. Suddenly, she was looking forward to sitting on the exercise bike.

Fifth: remind yourself. You can set the alarm app on your phone to encourage you to save money, reduce smoking or go to the gym. You can make a checklist of the things you want to do every day.

Finally: Get your friends to help you keep your promises to yourself. Your support network can hold you accountable for stopping smoking or spending more time at the gym. They might even agree to accompany you.

And if you fail to follow through despite all these tips? The research says that you should follow the advice of the great Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius: forgive yourself and try again.

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