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Tips on Changing Habits


I blog a great deal about changing habits because, at base, that’s what going from dysregulated to “normal” eating is all about—exchanging one set of behaviors for another. How to Build Lasting Habits for a Better Life has some excellent practical ideas on how to get this done. 

Katy Milkman, professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and co-founder and co-director of Wharton’s Behavior Change for Good Initiative, studies habits and explains why habits are hard to break: “We know from lots of research that people are very resistant in general to making a change. We’re comfortable in our ways. Any deviation from what we’re used to doing feels like a loss, and losses tend to loom larger than gains.” 

She recommends that you surround yourself with people who have the habits you wish to have and observe what they do. Talk to them about how they acquired these habits—being even-tempered, working out, carving out me time—and listen closely to what they say, specifically how they began to do this habit.

She advises us to use a “temptation bundle” which means linking two activities together. Her example is, “You’re only allowed to binge-watch Netflix while you’re working out.” Think about how much exercise you’d get if you followed this suggestion. She explains that “The real principle behind it is that it’s turning something that feels like a chore into a pleasure. By linking it with a temptation, it’s also reducing access to that temptation. You’re really solving two problems at once.”

A cue-based plan is what she recommends for getting new habits established. For example, on Friday at 11:00 a.m. you return phone calls or emails, on Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m. you do 30 minutes on the treadmill, right after that you brush your teeth, then make your bed. She encourages flexibility, so that if you missed paying bills the last Friday of the month as you’d planned, you don’t wait for the next month to do them but take the opportunity whenever you can. The same is true if you were sick and missed a work out. Take the next chance you get to do it. 

These are simple shifts that anyone can do along with being very specific about what habits you wish to change. Not “I want to be healthy,” but “I’ll eat two more nutritious foods daily.” Not “I want to increase me time,” but “I’ll spend one hour a day doing exactly what I like.” Think about what specific habits you want to have. Write three of them down write now and follow Milkman’s advice on acquiring them. Ready, set, go!