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How to Stick With Good Habits Even When Your Willpower is Gone

How to Stick With Good Habits Even When Your Willpower is Gone

Most people think that building good habits or changing their actions is all about willpower or motivation. But the more I learn, the more I believe that the number one driver of better habits and behavior change is your environment.

Let me drop some science into this article and show you what I mean.

Willpower vs. Environment

Anne Thorndike is a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Recently, Thorndike and her colleagues completed a six month study that was published in the American Journal of Public Health.

This study secretly took place in the hospital cafeteria and helped thousands of people develop healthier eating habits without changing their willpower or motivation in the slightest way.

Here’s what happened…

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Thorndike and her team proposed that by changing the environment and the way that food was displayed in the cafeteria, they could get people to eat healthier without thinking about it. There were multiple phases of the experiment, but the portion that really interested me focused on what Thorndike refers to as “choice architecture.”

Choice architecture is just a fancy word for “changing the way the food and drinks are displayed.” But, as it turns out, it makes a big difference.

The Impact of Choice Architecture

The researchers started by changing the choice architecture of the drinks in the cafeteria. Originally, there were three main refrigerators, all of which were filled with soda. The researchers made sure that water was added to each of those units and also placed baskets of bottled water throughout the room.

The image below depicts what the room looked like before the changes (Figure A) and after the changes (Figure B). The dark boxes indicate areas where bottled water is available.

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choice-architecture

    What happened?

    Over the next 3 months, the number of soda sales dropped by 11.4 percent. Meanwhile, bottled water sales increased by 25.8 percent. Similar adjustments and results were made with food options. Nobody said a word to the visitors who ate at the cafeteria. The researchers simply changed the environment and people naturally followed suit.

    The usual argument for sticking to better habits is that you need more willpower, motivation and discipline. But studies like this one showcase just how important your environment can be for guiding behavior.

    Environment design becomes even more important when you understand the daily fluctuation of willpower.

    The Willpower Muscle

    Decades of research have discovered that willpower is not something you have or don’t have, but rather it is a resource that can be used up and restored. Like tired muscles at the end of a workout, your willpower can become depleted if you use it too much. Much of this research is explained in excellent books like The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal and Willpower by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.

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    A classic example can be found by looking at college students. During finals week, students use all of their willpower to study and everything else collapses as a result. People eat whatever they can find, students who haven’t smoked all semester start lighting up outside the library, and many people can’t even muster the strength to change out of their sweatpants. There is only so much willpower to go around.

    We don’t typically think about willpower and motivation as a finite resource that is impacted by all of the things we do throughout the day, but that’s exactly how it works.

    And this is where choice architecture and willpower come together.

    Choice Architecture in Everyday Life

    When your willpower is depleted, you are even more likely to make decisions based on the environment around you. After all, if you’re feeling drained, stressed or overwhelmed then you’re not going to go through a lot of effort to cook a healthy dinner or fit in a workout. You’ll grab whatever is easiest.

    And that means that if you take just a little bit of time today to organize your room, your office, your kitchen, and other areas, then that adjustment in choice architecture can guide you towards better choices even when your willpower is fading.

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    For example, in Richard Thaler’s best-selling book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, he discusses research that reveals that items on the top shelf of supermarkets (near eye level) tend to sell more than items on lower shelves.

    It’s easy to apply this discovery to everyday life: simply place healthier foods in more visible spots in your refrigerator, pantry, and around the kitchen. Meanwhile, you can tuck away cookies, treats, and other unhealthy choices down on the lower shelves. This is one way to use choice architecture to make it more likely that you’ll grab healthy food, even when your willpower is fading.

    To Change Your Behavior, Change Your Environment

    Like the visitors in the hospital cafeteria, choice architecture can help you automatically do the right thing without worrying about willpower or motivation. If you design your environment to make the default choice a better one, then it’s more likely that you’ll make a good choice now and have more willpower leftover for later.

    Environment design works. Talking about tiny changes like moving your healthy foods to a more visible shelf might seem insignificant, but imagine the impact of making dozens of these changes and living in an environment designed to make the good behaviors easier and the bad behaviors harder.

    When you’re surrounded by better choices, it’s a lot easier to make a good one.

    More by this author

    7 Reasons You Haven’t Found Your Passion Yet 7 Ways To Get Over Fear and Make Big Life Changes Fast Growth Is Overrated — Here’s Why Famous Biologist Louis Agassiz On The Usefulness Of Learning Through Observation How to Fall in Love With Boredom and Unlock Your Mental Toughness

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    Last Updated on August 13, 2018

    5 Exercises To Improve Intimacy and Create a Better Relationship

    5 Exercises To Improve Intimacy and Create a Better Relationship

    Making love can be simultaneously the most pleasurable and the most stressful experience that we share with another human being. It is a natural conclusion of the ritual of intimacy we engage in with a person we find attractive on both a physical and psychological level. Yet, we are far removed from our animalistic roots, and that which was once a matter of instinct has become somewhat complex. This is a good thing; we have grown as a society, and there are many factors involved when it comes to the relationship between sexual partners. However, we have also lost a great deal of the physical prowess our primitive ancestors had.

    They engaged in a huge amount of physical activities daily — activities that ensured their cardiovascular system and muscles were in great shape, which allowed them to have healthy libidos, strong erections, and the muscular strength, limberness and endurance to maintain different positions for a long time without getting exhausted. Luckily, we can regain some of these animalistic traits with the right kind of training. Here are some essential exercises that will help improve your relationship, but making you more confident in intimate settings, which means that you’ll have more satisfying intercourse.

    Don Juan

      1. Cardio for Stamina

      If you’re out of shape, the first thing you’ll notice during intercourse is that you start to breathe heavily, sweat profusely and tire easily. This means you’ll have to shift your posture frequently and limit yourself to a few positions you feel comfortable with or significantly slow down the pace. A high BMI has also been linked to potential problems with erectile dysfunction. Cardiovascular exercises like running, jumping rope, swimming and cycling will build up your aerobic stamina and enable you to perform longer before becoming fatigued, thus having better intercourse. They’ll also help manage your weight, possibly helping performance.

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      Triathlon symbol
        • Running – 10-20 minutes a day (1-3 miles a day is more than enough)
        • Jumping rope – 5-20 minutes a day
        • Swimming – 30 minutes a day
        • Cycling – 30 minutes a day

        The time in minutes denotes time spent actively performing the exercise, and you need to factor in a bit more time for warming up before and cooling down after the exercises.

        These exercises can be performed every day or every other day, and the goal is to work on both endurance and speed. Don’t just go at a snail’s pace; constantly try to improve your time or add some mileage.

        2. Strength-Training for Your Lower Body and Core

        The next thing you’ll need to focus on is improving both the strength and muscular endurance of the hip flexors, abdominals and spinal erectors. These are the muscles engaged in thrusting and circular motions, and they also stabilize your body in a number of different positions. The legs also play an important role, particularly in standing and kneeling positions. Here are a few exercises that will help you strengthen up this area:

        Barbell squats
          • Heavy barbell squats – set up at a power rack at the gym and make sure you use proper form and weights that you can lift 3-8 times. Do this exercise before anything else in the gym for 4-5 sets to get big and powerful legs, as well as tighten up the muscles of the core. This is useful for both men and women, particularly if you enjoy the woman-on-top positions and standing positions. You can do hack squats on the machine if your gym lacks a power rack, but you won’t get the core-strengthening benefits

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          Zercher squat
            • Zercher squatsthis type of squat is a perfect way for guys to strengthen their body for standing positions where the woman is lifted off the ground. Build up a foundation of strength first, and then use lighter weights and go for 10-12 repetitions to focus on muscle endurance.

            Glute bridge
              • Glute bridgethis exercise is great for working the glutes and hip thrusters, and should be done for ultra-high reps —up to 100 — to increase muscle endurance. Once you become stronger in this movement, you can upgrade to the barbell glute bridge and keep the reps high — around 10 to 15.

              Hyperextensions
                • Hyperextensions – excellent for strengthening the spinal erectors, this exercise (or a variation of it) may be done in most gyms and even at home. Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions at the end of your workout.

                Ab wheel rollout
                  • Ab wheel rollout – this is a great exercise for strengthening the abs, and requires only a piece of inexpensive equipment. It will help you stay stable and hold positions longer without getting tired during intercourse. Do three sets of this workout for as many repetitions as you can.

                  Cross body crunch
                    • Cross body crunchthis exercise improves your ability to perform explosive twisting motions, particularly good for improving your stamina in the spoon position where you’e lying on your side. Do 2 to 3 sets of this exercise at the end of your workout.

                    Incorporate these exercises into your routine 2 to 3 times a week.

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                    3. Upper-Body Strength Training

                    Upper-body strength plays an important role in many popular sex positions where the arms are used to provide a stable base or hold onto the partner. These including missionary, doggy style, the stand and carry (with the woman holding onto the man’s neck) and others. Use these simple exercises to improve upper body strength and endurance:

                    Plank exercise
                      • Plank – while bench pressing is great for building a big chest, you will find yourself in need of static strength, muscle endurance and a strong core. This exercise is a great way to increase the amount of time you are able to hold positions that require you to support yourself with your arms. For added difficulty, straighten out your arms like at the top of a pushup and hold as long as you can.

                      Close grip pushups
                        • Close pushups – a pushup variation that focuses on triceps, which are the first to give out during a prolonged missionary or similar position. Go for very high reps, 20 t0 50, to work on muscle endurance.

                        Chin ups
                          • Chin-ups – A great upper back and biceps builder, this exercise will also target the core if you try to be as straight as possible when lifting yourself up. You can jump to help make things easier, or just hold as long as you can if you aren’t strong enough to perform a single chin up. Do 3 to 4 sets for as many reps as you can.

                          These exercises, done about three times a week, will help you develop a strong upper body that can keep going and hold you up for extended periods of time.

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                          4. Pelvic-Floor Exercises

                          You don’t have to perform these at the gym, although you could do them after your workout without anyone even noticing. The idea behind Kegel exercises is to improve blood flow to the sex organs and strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor in both men and women. By locating these muscles and tightening and relaxing them for intervals of 5 seconds for 10 to 15 repetitions at a time, several times a day, you can improve pleasure and performance during sex. Women can tighten their vaginal walls for increased pleasure to both them and their partner, while men can delay ejaculation by tightening these muscles.

                          5. Flexibility Moves for Legs and Hips

                          Lion stretching

                            If you want to avoid getting cramps — or even worse, pulling a muscle during intercourse — you should do a few simple stretches every day. The more limber you are, the more comfortable you’ll be with more exotic poses. Here are a few simple stretches to improve hip and leg flexibility:

                            Take a few minutes to warm up with some light running or jumping jacks before stretching, and spend some 10 minutes on these stretches. You can do them in the morning and at night, or shortly before intercourse.

                            With just a few hours a week devoted to exercise, you can improve your relationship significantly. If you focus on these exercises, over time, you just might become dynamite in bed.

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