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21 December 2009

Set a good habit in stone

So you want to run every morning, choose oats instead of a muffin or remember to use sun cream. Here’s how to make healthy behaviours run on autopilot.

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So you want to run every morning, choose oats instead of a muffin or remember to use sun cream. Here’s how to make healthy behaviours run on autopilot.
By Marnie Soman, Men's Health

Watch yourself

People who keep track of their goals and record their progress are better able to make healthy behaviours a habit, notes a 2008 study in the International Journal of Obesity. “It helps people keep in mind what they’re trying to achieve and boosts their ability to make it happen,” says study author Dr Phillippa Lally. Write down a list of the habits you’re trying to establish and create boxes for every day of the week. Check off your successes each day.

Make stress work for you

If you’re under stress, you’re more likely to persist with behaviours that have unwanted outcomes, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of Neuroscience. This suggests that stress can promote bad habits. But the stress hormone cortisol, which appears to enhance habit-forming systems, may also impair systems associated with more flexible behaviour, says study author Dr Lars Schwabe. So going to the gym after tough workdays, for example, may help you stick to a fitness regime.

Repeat, repeat, repeat

Simply repeating good habits makes them more automatic. A 2007 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that after people chose an option associated with a goal (such as selecting fruit for dessert instead of ice cream) just three times, they were less tempted by the unhealthy alternative (the ice cream).

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