You probably know it’s a lot easier to create a good habit than get rid of a bad one. Forming good habits is one of the few ways you can create better, healthier, or more productive behavior. But how do you start these great habits? And how do you get them to stick?
As with so many things, TED speakers can provide some answers. In a playlist on creating better habits, half a dozen experts–neuroscientists, a psychologist, an economist, and people who’ve actually done it–ask just how human beings can create healthier habits, and offer some powerful answers:
1. Build a new habit in 30 days.
We know it takes about a month to form a new habit, whether eating salads, biking to work, or giving up watching the news. That’s the message from Google engineer Matt Cutts who says he “decided to follow in the footsteps of the great American philosopher Morgan Spurlock,” by trying something new for 30 days at a time. “The idea is pretty simple,” he says. “Think of something you’ve always wanted to add to your life and try it for the next 30 days.”
Simple and yet powerful. In his talk, Cutts explains how, as a result of his own 30-day challenges, he did things like hiking up Mt. Kilimanjaro and writing a novel (not necessarily a good one), that he never would have done otherwise. More to the point, he discovered that when he used the technique to make gradual changes to his routine, those changes tended to stick.
2. Laser-focus on your goals.
How hard or easy something is to do depends a lot on your own perceptions, as social psychologist Emily Balcetis demonstrates in a thought-provoking talk. Through a series of experiments, she and her team demonstrated that our perceptions of distance, and of the difficulty of a challenging activity, changes dramatically according to our attitudes, experiences, and motivations.
Who has the easiest time completing a difficult walk? The person who focuses on the finish line at the end of the walk and tries to focus on nothing else. There’s a lesson there for us all.
3. Don’t get isolated.
National Geographic writer Dan Buettner has traveled the world examining “Blue Zones,” places where people have much higher longevity than elsewhere. In this fascinating talk, he describes areas of commonality among them, and perhaps the most striking is this: They all live in tight-knit communities. It may seem like an odd idea in our increasingly mobile, work-at-home world, but having a community of people you share your joys and sorrows with really can make you healthier, happier, and longer-lived. (Here’s more about Buettner’s findings.)
4. Don’t neglect your own emotional health.
Our society overvalues physical health over emotional health, argues psychologist (a.k.a. “not a real doctor”) Guy Winch, in an illuminating talk. The result is that too many of us struggle with self-criticism, and loneliness–so much so that it is sending many of us to an early grave. In fact, he says, chronic loneliness and emotional hurt is as bad for you as smoking. But by changing your thought patterns and attitudes, you can reverse a lot of these effects. It’s an effort well worth making.
5. Eating right really is worth it.
You know that eating a diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and “good” fats and proteins is good for your health. You may even know it can help prevent disease. But did you know that changing your diet can actually reverse cardiovascular disease and shrink tumors? In this very brief talk, UCSF clinical professor Dean Ornish shows how.
6. Never, ever go on a diet.
Diets almost never work, even if you call them “eating plans” instead. In fact, they can lower your metabolism and often cause people to gain wait in the long run. What should you do? Make peace with the fact that long-term weight loss is impossible for most people, says neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt in her highly honest talk. But following healthy habits such as eating fruits and vegetables, not smoking, drinking moderately and exercising at least three times a week can make you healthy no matter what weight you are.
7. Save your next raise.
You’d like to save, but you just can’t figure out how when every penny you earn seems to be spent before it ever lands in your bank account? In his talk, economist Shlomo Benartzi offers a breathtakingly simple solution: Wait until your next raise, and then start saving all or part of that increase. It’s a brilliant idea that Tony Robbins recommends highly and the best strategy for kicking a savings plan into gear I’ve ever heard of.