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The Science of Healthier Habits

8 January 2019

Janie read How to Crush Your Habits in the New Year With the Help of Science by Susan Shain and was pleased to read some new suggestions for forming positive habits.

Tags: change, janie read

I spent some time after the holidays thinking about the year ahead and considering some changes that I’d like to make in 2019. In my review of the New York Times last week, I saw How to Crush Your Habits in the New Year With the Help of Science by Susan Shain. The title grabbed my attention right away. I love the idea of using habits to make changes. I’ve written about Gretchen Rubin’s thoughts on habits before and was curious to see what new tips I might find in the article.

Shain consulted several different habit experts to put together this article and included some great suggestions for changing your habits. The ones that resonated with me the most were to “prime your environment” and “celebrate often.”

According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits and one of the experts Shain consulted, paying attention to our environment is key for improving habits. Clear stated, “The people who exhibit the most self-control are not actually those who have superhuman willpower…they’re the people who are tempted the least.” Clear went on to suggest that if you want to watch less television, simply unplug your TV. Along the same lines, if you want to eat better, don’t buy unhealthy food. Clear emphasized that it’s much easier to have willpower when you aren’t surrounded by things that tempt you.

The other suggestion I loved was to celebrate often. Shain spoke with Dr. Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct, for this advice. McGonigal said “Celebration is one of the emotions that propel people further on the path of positive habits. Celebrating tells your brain a behavior is beneficial, and that it should look for more opportunities to engage in it.” She goes on to say that the celebrations do not need to be anything big, but a celebration of some sort can change your memory of an experience, making it more positive than it actually was, and that makes you more likely to do it again in the future.

I recently purchased a Fitbit to help motivate me and keep me focused on my goal to walk more this year. Over the weekend, I hit 10,000 steps and my Fitbit had a small celebration for me. This sounds silly, but when I hit 10,000 steps tiny fireworks started going off on my Fitbit and it made me smile. It also made me want to hit this milestone again. This is the kind of small celebration that Dr. McGonigal referred to in her article. Small celebrations like this are things I can easily add to my days.

Are you hoping to change some of your habits this year? This article has several other excellent suggestions of ways science can help you make changes.


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