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The Ultimate Trick for Starting a Healthy Habit Without Willpower

The Ultimate Trick for Starting a Healthy Habit Without Willpower

As you probably know, we all have a limited supply of willpower available to us – unfortunately, there seems to be an unlimited number of decisions to make each day. What should I eat for lunch? Should I go to bed now, or binge watch the rest of Supernatural? Should I work on my project or scroll through Facebook? And on and on…

How can we stop this avalanche of decisions from crushing us and conserve our existing willpower at the same time? Easy- pre-make some choices using implementation intentions.

What are implementation intentions?

Implementation intentions are simple instructions you write for yourself on what to do in a given situation. They are backed by tons of studies, including a few that show that their use leads to a more than 2X success rate!

They are usually written in an “If/Then” (or “When ____ happens/I will ____”) format, as in “If I want to sit down and watch TV when I get home in the evening, then I will wait 10 minutes before I do”. Then, you just read your intention at a strategic time (in the previous example, right before you leave work to go home would be a good time).

While you can use implementation intentions for specific, one-time events (“if I make a toast at the wedding, then I’ll make no mention of that wild trip to Vegas the groom and I went on”), they work extremely well for establishing healthy habits.

You can also strengthen an implementation intention by creating a second, interrelated one (see the alarm clock example below).

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Waiting for 10 minutes between impulse (I want to watch TV) and gratification (Yay! I’m watching TV!) is a great way to increase the size of your willpower reservoir.

Implementation intentions are similar to affirmations, but only superficially. For example, affirmations are usually visionary in nature providing direction. However, they also usually have no concrete plan in place for making it happen. Implementation intentions are more tactical and should be very specific and clear with what you should do when a situation arises. Personally, I use both: affirmations for the goal and direction, and implementation intentions for the specific methods and strategies.

Converting your goals into implementation intentions

The method for turning a regular goal into a much more effective implementation intention is very simple. Just figure out some concrete way you can work towards or achieve your goal and when and where you can do it. Here’s an example:

Goal: Exercise at least twice a week.

So, let’s say you have a gym membership and know you will have time in the evening on Mondays and Wednesdays to work out. In that case, you could structure your implementation intention like this: “If it is Monday or Wednesday at 8 p.m., then I will go to the gym and exercise for at least 20 minutes”.

Implementation Intentions in Action

Here’re a few examples of how you can use implementation intentions to achieve or work towards several common goals. Each includes the if/then statement to write and when to read the statement each day. Feel free to use these yourself, just modify it as necessary to fit your unique situation.

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Eating less

If/Then statement: “When I want to eat something, I will first put it on a plate and take a picture of it”.

When to read: First thing in the morning or before your first meal or snack.

This establishes the habit of taking note of everything you eat. Even if you never share your pics with anyone or look at them yourself, this practice has been shown to decrease the amount you consume and improve the quality of what you do eat. Present state awareness is a powerful thing.

Get up the first time your alarm clock sounds

If/Then statement: “If my alarm clock goes off in the morning, then I immediately get out of bed!” plus the related “If I want to hit the snooze button, then I will get out of bed immediately anyway!”

When to read: In the late evening or right before you go to sleep at night.

I use these on a daily basis myself. Since I started, I have yet to fail at getting up on time!

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Meditation

If/Then statement: “When I wake up each morning, I will sit still and meditate for at least five minutes”.

When to read: In the late evening or right before you go to sleep at night.

Meditation is one of those things that everyone knows is good for them, but few people stick to it over the long term. A lot of people might find it difficult to meditate even with implementation intentions. In that case, I would suggest looking into binaural beats, a type of sound that is proven (by numerous studies) to modify your brainwaves in a way that supports meditation.

Exercise

If/Then statement: “When I arrive at work in the morning, I will take the stairs instead of the elevator.”

When to read: In the morning before work.

Of course, this one only applies if you work in an office building (and not on the first floor). If you work too high up to feasibly take the stairs all the way up, get off several floors below yours and hoof it the rest of the way.

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These are just a few examples. Implementation intentions can be used for pretty much anything where you can specify a when, where and how. Just make sure that any implementation intentions you make are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. The ones you really want to focus on here are specific and achievable. The rest of them usually fall into place by themselves due to the nature of implementation intentions.

Finally, a word of caution: if you suffer from socially prescribed perfectionism (you believe others have unrealistically high expectations for you), implementation intentions might not be good for you. A recent study found that this tool had a significant negative psychological impact on people in this group.

For everyone else, though, implementation intentions have been shown to increase goal attainment very significantly.

So, write your first implementation intention now, and save your willpower for the difficult, unexpected decisions that life throws at you! As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will”.

Featured photo credit: www.strengthoverego.com via strengthoverego.com

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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