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Struggling to change a habit? Think big.

Toni-Ann DiSantis

Struggling to change a habit? Think big.

We all know what keeps us healthy. Fruits and veggies, moving our bodies regularly, relaxing practices like yoga, forgoing that second glass of wine, and, of course, not smoking. And yet it’s all too easy to get stuck in a rut of doing the very opposite, on one or several fronts. Habits are powerful! Simply being told what to do or being reminded of long-term health consequences can conjure up emotional defenses and even feelings of low self-worth, which can be discouraging rather than motivating. One way to feel more encouraged to practice healthy habits is to step back, so to speak, and focus on something bigger than yourself. Researchers followed more than 200 adults who were sedentary and overweight and had some of them reflect on their “self-transcendent” values — that is, values that were bigger than themselves, such as love for their families or spirituality. Participants in a control group thought about their least important values. Then everyone read basic information about the benefits of exercise and suggestions for moving more. For the next month, everyone repeated the reflection exercise and wore activity monitors. Those who had focused on self-transcendent values were significantly more physically active than those who didn’t. So the next time you feel stuck in a rut, zoom out and think about what’s really important to you, and how you fit into a larger whole. It might put taking good care of your health in a different context — and make it easier to lace up those sneakers!