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Changing Habits: Thoughts from Chris Kresser

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Got this in an email today, and wanted a more permanent place to refer to it. I think he really explains this so simply and clearly!

#1: Know your why

To be successful adopting a new habit, you have to emotionally connect with the reasons you want to adopt it. “I should exercise more because my doctor told me to” is not going to cut it. Ask yourself questions like “How would I feel if I was successful with this new habit?”, “Who might I become if I adopted this behavior?”, “How will this help me to achieve other important goals in my life?” Consider writing down the answers to these questions and then reviewing them daily as you build the habit.

#2: Shrink the change

We have a tendency to set large, unattainable goals and then quit when we can’t reach them. I’m not sure why, but this seems to be human nature. Shrinking the change you want to make into small increments can dramatically increase your chances of success. For example, if you want to eventually meditate daily for 30 minutes, start with just two minutes a day. As you succeed, you’ll get the confidence and motivation you need to gradually increase to your full goal.

#3: Stack your new habit on an existing one

Habit stacking is a proven strategy for successfully changing behavior. Here’s how it works. You time the new habit you want to develop just before or just after an already established habit. For example, I decided to meditate every day just after I finished my morning coffee and writing, and just before my at-home strength training program.

#4: Schedule your habit into your calendar

It’s important to give your new habit the same visual and logistical weight as other important things that you do each week. For me, that means scheduling habits directly into my calendar, and setting an alarm so I don’t forget to do them. If you saw my calendar, you’d see 30 minutes blocked in the morning for meditation, then another 30-45 minutes blocked for strength training, then time for a mountain bike ride later in the day, etc.

#5: Get accountability and support

A psychological principle called the Hawthorne Effect holds that we perform better when we know we’re under the observation of others. This is why accountability is so powerful when it comes to building new habits. There are many ways you can do this. Write a commitment contract (stating what you are committing to), and then share it with your partner, a friend, an online community related to your habit, your social media followers, a mentor, or your health coach.

I hope these strategies are helpful to you. Building effective health habits is more important now than ever in this COVID-19 era we’re living through.

In health,
Chris Kresser
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