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A Few Extra Seconds Could Make You Much Healthier


One of the most exciting things about the Habits of Health system has been seeing more and more research confirm what we established long ago from early medical insights and years of field-testing. When we identified that habits were one of the most overlooked areas of health—those small, unconscious behaviors that lead to mountains of healthy choices over time—we quickly learned that one of the keys to turning a Habit of Disease into a Habit of Health was time.

Because habits are automatic behaviors, we had to find ways to help people step back and look at the situation in front of them and the choices they were about to make. If there was no pause, even a few seconds of reflection, then the old Habit of Disease would take over.

This is why we developed the Stop. Challenge. Choose. method (the e-book on this process is still free to download) and why we emphasize practices like mindfulness meditation and journaling to encourage reflection. If you practice putting time between you and a choice, you are more likely to make the healthier choice and to make it more consistently.

And there’s new research out that backs this up.

Brad Applehans is an associate professor of preventative medicine at Rush University Medical Center. He developed a vending machine that forced customers to wait an extra 25 seconds to get an unhealthy snack. If the customer selected a healthy snack, it was released instantly—no delay.

The clever part of this experiment is that the signage that tells customers about the potential delay is sometimes enough to nudge customers into thinking about what kind of snack they really want, making them 5% more likely to select a healthier snack. Yes, a 5% change may not sound like much, but these are largely individuals who have not awakened their intrinsic desire to create optimal wellbeing. They simply stumbled across a tool that encourages them to think about their health and have no underlying support or desire to be better.

When you combine that desire with proven tools and strategies for making Habits of Health, that’s when transformation occurs.

The lesson here is to build strategies that help you to make these pauses in your life so that you can step out of your habit loop and make a conscious decision based on your health goals. Here are some ideas that might help:

  • Make a shopping list, and don’t shop hungry. If you write out the items you need to buy before you even step in the store, and if you don’t walk through aisles of food with an empty stomach, you can have an inner dialog with yourself about what foods you need to be eating well ahead of the moment where you are staring down a pack of cookies.
  • Get rid of the unhealthy foods in your home. While this tip piggybacks on the previous one, we often talk to clients who have a big stash of sweets that they run to when they crave comfort food. If you remove these temptations from your immediate reach and don’t replace them when you shop, you create a situation where you would have to drive to the store to buy something unhealthy, which buys you time to think about the choice that actually supports your health goals.
  • Plan ahead for cravings. With a little bit of reflection, identifying your big triggers for unhealthy eating should not be difficult. Maybe you get stressed from work, or you feel too tired to make your own healthy meal, or maybe you’re just bored watching television. If you know what scenarios lead to unhealthy behaviors, you can either eliminate those scenarios or plan for a healthy alternative. That way, you don’t have to fight to make the healthy choice in that moment of getting in the door after a long day of work because you already made it a few days earlier.
  • Learn from your mistakes. Mastering Habits of Health won’t happen overnight. You will sometimes make a mistake and give into a Habit of Disease. When that happens, use your setback as a learning opportunity. Reflect on why you made the choice you made, and visualize yourself making the healthier choice in the future. Doing this will help you to recognize your habits, giving you the pause you need to make the right choice.

Start working on your Habits of Health today, and find opportunities to build in a few extra seconds when you need to make a choice. Those seconds could make the difference between disease and optimal wellbeing.

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