Submitted by Paul R. Scheele, Ph.D., Learning Strategies
Mindless behavior can sometimes have damaging effects. But it also could be a key player in reaching your goals this year. The American Psychological Association recently published a study showing we are just as likely to default to positive habits as we are to negative habits—even in times of stress.
“When we try to change our behavior, we strategize about our motivation and self-control. But what we should be thinking about instead is how to create new habits. Habits persist even when we are tired and don’t have the energy to exert self-control,” says Wendy Wood, professor of Psychology and Business at the University of Southern California.
In one experiment, Wood followed university students for a semester. During the time leading up to exams, when students were most stressed, they were most likely to fall back on old habits, good or bad. Those who routinely ate junk food were more likely to stick to this pattern, while those who ate healthfully continued their routine.
Similarly, students who routinely read the newspaper in the morning were even more likely to read the paper under stress. Gym regulars were more likely to go to the gym—even with limited time. Woods observed it was as if the students lacked the energy to do something new.
“Habits don’t require much willpower and thought and deliberating,” says Woods. “So the real question for behavior change effects should be, how can you form healthy, productive habits?”
To establish new and positive habits, which can be doubly useful during times of high stress, try this suggestion from our New Action Generator Paraliminal. Replace an old habit that doesn’t serve you with a new routine or action that keeps you aligned with your goals.
If your goal is to lose weight, for example, you may want to replace the habit of reaching for an afternoon unhealthy snack. Ask yourself what is driving the habit. Are you hungry or simply bored? If you are hungry, keep a supply of healthy options like apples or almonds at your desk and munch on them when you would typically reach for your unhealthy snack. If you are bored, consider taking a quick walk.
Whenever you feel a desire to perform an old habit, replacing it will eventually create a new and positive habit and provide you with the same satisfaction or reward.
To help you consistently take the action you need, I recommend you listen to an audio program I created called New Action Generator. Simply push play, close your eyes, relax, and listen. You will be led through a closed-eye process that activates your “whole mind” with a precise blend of music and words to help you acquire new behaviors.
To learn more about New Action Generator and the 41 other Paraliminal programs, please click here. Other titles in the Paraliminal library include Anxiety-Free, Deep Relaxation, Focus & Concentration, New Action Generator, Peak Performance, Power Thinking, and Success Built To Last.