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Healthy Living

Step by step

Step-by-Step WillPower

Do you have a problem with willpower? Do you find yourself making excuses for why you can't stick with your plans to reach your goals? Psychology professor James Rosen of the University of Vermont offers the following guideline for embarking upon and sticking with any endeavor:

  1. Form a commitment
  2. It all starts with desire. You have to be clear with yourself about why you are doing something. The outcome has to be important enough to you to sustain the process. For some people, for instance, losing weight to look better in clothes might be nice, but when the chips are down, the burger and fries win out. For that same person, losing weight to alleviate lower back pain might be far more motivating.

  3. Do it for you
  4. Regardless of all the external spurts to action, you have to ultimately feel that the outcome is something you want and that the time is right to go after it.

  5. Go through the motions
  6. Don't worry or question your commitment if your behavioral change doesn't "feel good" at first. It probably won't, or at least it won't feel natural. You need to go through the motions until the change feels familiar--as a rule of thumb, it takes two weeks to ingrain a strong intention. It takes in the range of four months to turn familiarity into a habit--something you no longer question, but perform automatically or unconsciously.

  7. Do it every day
  8. Frequency is very important to building "habit strength." For instance, if you start walking 2 miles three times a week, that may be just as physically beneficial as walking a mile six days a week, but it is not as habit building.

    In the former case, you are actually not walking on more days than you are walking, leaving your body and mind confused as to which is the "routine" behavior.

  9. Have a schedule
  10. Regularity and rhythm are also important to habit strength. Walking four days a week with no discernible pattern is less reinforcing, less willpower-building, than a Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule followed at the same time each day without fail. Of course, doing anything at the same time every day kills two birds with one stone.

  11. Make it a priority
  12. The essence of self-regulation is choice. Any behavior you are trying to ingrain has to come, without question, ahead of some other things in your life. What can you give up to make sure you get your daily walk in? Can you put up with a less tidy house? Watch less TV? Even read less? If you go down the list and are not ready to give anything up, maybe you should rethink step one. That's not a lack of willpower, it's a lack of desire.

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