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The only strategy you need to break a bad habit (and create a healthy one instead)


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Photo: Audible; Graphic: W+G Creative

As someone who’s been trying (and failing) to break my nail-biting habit for almost a decade, I’m always all-ears when anybody drops a hot tip for shedding old patterns. Because (sigh) I, too, would love to partake in beachy nail polish trends one day.

So, when given the chance to meet with Mel Robbins, the productivity pro behind the bestselling book The 5 Second Rule who also happens to be the most requested motivational speaker in the world, I obviously couldn’t resist asking her to dish on her best strategy for renouncing old habits in favor of healthier alternatives. I mean, it’s basically her job to teach people how to hack their lives.

Her first nugget of wisdom: Habits (especially the good, healthy ones) are hard—and not always fun. “Don’t ever fucking expect [your new habit] to be easy or to like it,” she tells me at the launch of launch of her Audible original series Kick Ass with Mel Robbins. “Don’t expect that you’re going to like it just because you repeat the behavior—but still make yourself do it.” Translation: If you’re been patiently awaiting the day flossing starts to feel like a recreational activity, you might be waiting a long time.

If you’re been patiently awaiting the day flossing starts to feel like a recreational activity, you might be waiting a long time.

While simple perseverance is key for solidifying new habits, breaking bad ones requires a bit of self-analysis. “I want you to write down all the things that trigger you to do the bad habit,” instructs Robbins. For example, if you have a tendency to mindlessly snack, you may start to notice that you reach for the chips and cookies more often during awkward social situations, when you’ve skipped lunch, or after you’ve made eye contact with the candy in the checkout aisle (just me?). Once you’ve jotted those down, you’re ready to make a plan of attack. “You’re going to create what we call an if-then plan,” Robbins says.”If I feel hungry, then I’m going to reach for X.”

It sounds crazy-simple, but the Robbins’ If-Then strategy actually works. In fact, some research even suggests that you are two to three times more likely to follow-through with a new habit if you use such a strategy, Psychology Today reports. And in a review of 94 studies on the topic, Peter Gollwitzer, the New York University psychologist who originated the practice, “found significantly higher success rates for just about every goal you can think of, from using public transportation more frequently to avoiding stereotypical and prejudicial thoughts.”

So now, if I want to bite my nails, then I write down something I’m grateful for instead. (Starting with, I’m thankful for this gorge new mani.)

Now that you (basically) have habit-forming superpowers, add these happiness-inducing mindfulness practices to the mix or some of these anti-inflammation ones.  

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