Trying to Break a Bad Habit? It Takes More Than Willpower

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If your commitment to your New Year’s resolutions hasn’t begun to wane, kudos...you’re in the minority. For the 80 percent of us who have already given up on our 2019 goals, a new report published in the Psychological Science in the Public Interest journal outlines new strategies that may help beef up our resolve.

More specifically, researchers from Harvard University and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania developed a new framework that can lead to better self-control. In essence, it works by replacing a behavior we want to engage in with one we’ve decided we should engage in. According to the researchers, self-control strategies work best when:

  • We change the situation and remove obstacles (for example: if you’re trying to lose weight, keep junk food out of the house; if you’ve been OD’ing on smartphone time, install an app that limits your phone use).
  • We change how we think about the situation (deciding, say, that you’ll be able to afford the shoes you want if you make dinner at home this weekend instead of going out to eat)
  • Someone else implements the changes (such as: increased taxes on cigarettes or alcohol, off-peak energy usage shifts, retirement savings incentives)

While more research is needed to determine how beneficial this method will be over the long term, it’s worth a try in the moment...after all, science says it just might do the trick.