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Good intentions are not enough for long-lasting change

New Year’s resolutions and how to keep them

“The road to success is paved with good intentions” is one of the oldest self-help quips. People have good intentions to change, especially for the New Year. As the ball fell in Times Square, there were many New Year’s resolutions floating in the air. A slew of smokers vowed that this will be the year to quit. Others swore off pasta in hope of losing those 20 pounds, while others bought a gym membership with the desire to get more heart-healthy.

But let’s face it — good intentions are not
enough to change. Sticking to a new life program for longer than three sunsets is very difficult. As a Motivational Speaker, I’m often asked about how to keep on the path..how to stay on task..on goal. In fact, exercise psychologists have usually found that half the people who start a fitness program will drop out within just a few months.

Intention is only the first step to lasting change. Setting specific and realistic goals are not enough, either. (Although a lot of self-help gurus think this is the cat’s meow to all needed change.)

The new research on sustained habit change suggests a simple but powerful approach. According to Charles Duhigg in “The Power of Habit,” if we want our new habits to stick, we will need to be aware of the three-step loop (cue-routine-reward) of habit formation:

1. Habits start with a cue, which is a trigger such as a smell or sight or hunger pangs.

2. Habits are created with a routine comprised of systematic behavior.

3. Habits are sustained with rewards that help your brain remember this three-step loop.

According to Duhigg, if we learn the structure of the habit loop, it is easier to fiddle with the gears and control your habit. I used this loop system to break a bad habit — drinking a soda on my way to work every day — that I had been trying to conquer for some time.

I replaced one routine for another. Today, I have coffee, which contains antioxidants, instead of the cola.

Given that many people want to get in better shape in the new year, let’s use the habit loop to see if we can get more people to stay committed to an exercise program.

The first step is to create a powerful cue. In this case, it could be as simple as a picture of your healthier weight (perhaps in college) on your mirror, as a cue to remind you to exercise more. Next comes the routine. Given that most people are too tired to exercise in the evening, the routine should focus on a morning ritual. But it must be fast and simple.

Here’s one: Jump rope for 15 minutes in the morning before your shower. Jumping rope for 15 minutes burns about 300 calories (if you jump fast). In one month’s time, you can lose 3-5 pounds doing it.

Last is the reward. Duhigg suggests that to keep an exercise program going, give yourself a midday snack every day that you exercise. Duhigg also said that when you continue an exercise program, your brain will release endorphins (which are naturally euphoric-producing substances found in the body), and this will also act as a reward. If that is not enough, perhaps a promised trip to Bermuda will work better (my suggestion).

What do you want to change in 2013? Do you really want this change to last until 2014?

Today, habit therapy is used to treat all kinds of problems from depression to gambling to procrastination. This three-step habit loop seems so simple and easy. But once you recognize how habits are created and formed, then you can control them. It takes awareness and determination.

It worked for me, and I believe it will work for you.

About Gregg Steinberg

Dr. Gregg Steinberg is a performance psychology expert, best selling author, and inspirational keynote speaker on the various topics relating to individual and team performance. Google+ Profile Get in touch with Dr. Gregg

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