Making positive change is hard. Just how hard? So difficult that millions of Americans persist with terribly unhealthy behavior, facing ill health or serious financial difficulty as a result, rather than change their habits.
A challenge as difficult as changing your life for the better demands help and tools that are up to such a hard task—luckily, one Australian entrepreneur has a bumper crop of advice to offer. Nick Crocker is the founder of JoinSessions.com, a social fitness startup that helps people live healthier and more active lives that has been acquired by MyFitnessPal. In the process of starting this business, he’s had plenty of opportunities to learn what works when it comes to making positive change and what doesn’t.
At TEDx Darwin, he shared his personal struggles to improve his habits and his life, as well as the latest wisdom on how you can finally make those changes you’ve been promising yourself for years now. He boils it down to these 10 helpful techniques:
1. It’s Easier to Add a New Behavior Than Stop an Old One
Cold turkey doesn’t work. Instead of trying to stop an old habit cold, if at all possible, try to arrange things to add a new, better behavior into the mix.
2. Make One Change for a Fixed Time
“Don’t overload your change muscle,” Crocker cautions those looking to make substantive changes. That means only making one adjustment at a time and shielding your brain from the terror of forever. Change for eternity is scary. Just tell yourself you’re aiming for six weeks instead. By that time, forever might sound more doable.
3. Take Baby Steps
Stop setting yourself up to feel like a failure; swap out big goals for activities. So instead of saying, “I’m going to run a marathon,” go for, “I’m going to a run some distance—whatever I can manage—five times a week.” Phrase it the first way and you have months of not reaching your goal in front of you. Opt for the second and you’re gaining small victories from the start.
4. Create Chains of Success
No. 4 follows directly on No. 3. Wins are self-reinforcing. The more you have, the less you’ll be inclined to mess up your streak. Crocker calls these “chains of success”—the longer they are, the harder they are to break.
5. Utilize Triggers
When you’re attempting to establish a behavior, your best bet is to link it to an already established habit. So if you want to get yourself to regularly floss your teeth, make brushing your teeth (which, it is hoped, you’ve already got down cold) the trigger—whenever you finish brushing, that’s the time to get out the floss.
6. Measure the Change
Sure, this can be a fancy app on your smartphone keeping track of your every step or calorie, but it can also be something as simple as an old-fashioned wall calendar with X’s through each day you’ve successfully made a change.
7. Never Change Alone
“When you add someone else to the mix, you get encouragement, you get support, you get someone to pick you up when you’re down, and you get the added opportunity to pick someone else up when they’re down,” Crocker says. “Changing together makes it much easier.”
8. Don’t Forget the Sticks
Science shows that we hate losing $100 about twice as much as we enjoy winning $100. Losing isn’t pleasant, but it is useful. Leverage this reality when you’re trying to make a tough change. Crocker used this wisdom on himself by giving a colleague five $50 bills. He told this colleague that if he ever noticed Crocker not tackling an unpleasant task that he had been avoiding between certain set hours, the colleague should burn one of the bills. Presto! Crocker never slacked off during those appointed times, despite his complete dislike of the job.
9. Change Your Environment
You can do everything else on this list and you’ll still fail if you don’t take this bit of advice into account. Want to lose weight or make other positive changes in your life? Clear those cupboards of junk and spend less time with discouraging people.
10. Change Takes Patience
Proper expectations are essential to making change. Don’t expect massive, instant improvement. It never works for anyone. All change is slow and incremental.
Intrigued? You can watch the full talk (complete with cute illustrations) below:
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