(CNN) – Many of us know the types of habits that can make us healthier, more successful, and possibly happier.
She could be more mindful, drink more shakes, or train for a 5-kilometer run. However, meditation can seem boring, cooking a healthy meal may seem like a lot of work, and maintaining a lazy routine of not exercising is very relaxing and familiar.
Katie Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, has resisted many of these same hurdles. As the co-founder and co-director of Wharton’s Behavior Change for Good initiative, she now dedicates her career to studying the development of habits.
Milkman has worked with the White House, Google, the American Red Cross and Walmart to help their employees develop better habits around saving for retirement, exercise, and more. In his new book, “How to change: the science of moving from where you are to where you want to be.” How to change: The science of moving from where you are to where you want to be guides readers through the latest science on behavior change, with practical advice that can help you reduce stress, improve your mental health, and live a better life.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
CNN: Why do you want to change? Will it make me happier?
Katie Milkman: He is a rare person I know who is not looking to change in some way. There are a lot of experts out there, but not a lot of science that can help all of those who want change.
We know from a lot of research that people in general are very resistant to making a change. We feel comfortable in our habits. Any deviation from what we are used to doing feels like a loss, and losses tend to be greater than gains. We will likely increase our dedication to an existing course of action that goes beyond what makes sense because we focus so much on what economists call sunk costs, which are sunk costs. This makes us resistant to change.
All of those forces that push us against change mean that we may change very little. If you can persuade people to change, it will seem helpful.
CNN: Many of us know that we will be happier or less stressed if we save more money, eat better, or sleep more. Why is there such a difference between what we know is good for us and what we do?
milkman: This gap between action and intention is so wide, because there are forces that work against doing what is really good for us and that makes it difficult to do so.
Knowledge is not enough. We need the tools and tactics, and science, to be honest, to guide us toward what will help us overcome those barriers, rather than just knowing that we should be doing something different in life.
CNN: I would like to start meditating to reduce my stress levels, but the idea seems stressful.
milkman: This appears to be an information gap in terms of understanding which tactics might be effective for a person in my situation. One suggestion might be to use social forces as a tool to try to address this barrier: what I call “copy and paste”. It turns out that it’s very simple, when we’re surrounded by people who are achieving goals that we also want to achieve.
We ask people to intentionally copy and paste their peers. If you want to perform like someone in the gym, this improves your results even more. Although we naturally ask our peers trying to figure it out, we can ask, “Hey, what works for you? Be very careful when it comes to copying and pasting. Ask,” How did you start? How do you include it in your agenda? ».
CNN: I’d love to spend more time exercising, but I’m addicted to watching Netflix.
milkman: The solution in this case is very simple, and consists of creating a “bundle of temptations,” meaning connecting these two things. Netflix can only be watched during a workout. Suddenly, people find themselves exercising to see what is happening on their favorite shows, and it is possible that they will exercise longer. Training will be less hassle, because time will fly while they are watching the series, and they will spend less time at home watching TV when they should be doing other things.
This is a technique that I have studied and tested. You associate something fun, as a source of entertainment, with exercise. We tested it with audio narrations. They can greatly increase the rate at which people go to the gym, but of course they can also be “lured” into other areas of life.
The real principle behind this is that it’s about turning something that feels like a chore into a pleasure. By associating it with temptation, you are also reducing access to that temptation. In fact, you are solving two problems at the same time.
CNN: Your friend and colleague Angela Duckworth, author of the book “Grit,” argues that a cue-based plan is by far the best tool I’ve found for positive behavior change. How does this work?
milkman: For many of us, when we make a plan, it is rather a vague intention. We say, ‘I want to meditate more. This is my plan. ”But the signal-based plan would be in a different way, such as“ If X happens, I will meditate, ”and then fill in the blank. What is this Q? A good plan might be:“ If it is noon on a workday. I’ll pause for 15 minutes and reflect.
The sign is noon and workday because your work week may be different from your weekend, so you can make plans that have markers for these types of emergencies.
You’re more likely to stick to these signal-based plans, and there are several reasons for this. One of them is that the signal is a memory trigger. The way we store information depends on cues, and you’re unlikely to forget when something goes off at a specific time because, oh, it’s noon! This means my brain is telling me this is when to do it.
Second, it was no longer a great intention. It is a tangible commitment. We do not like to be broken with our obligations, even if they are to ourselves. It’s a different feeling than saying, “Oh, I’ll save it for later.” If I start to meditate and don’t, I will break a strong commitment. Between memory and commitment, these are two reasons for planning success.
CNN: You say your most important clue might be that we don’t have to have a new habit, like running or meditating, at the same time every day. Instead, being flexible helps us stay in the habit. Because it is important?
milkman: It simply goes against what everyone who has studied this habit thinks so far. This is the first part. The other reason that seems so important to me is that when I think about what I want to study over the next 20 years, it has helped me crystallize it.
The most important thing is to understand what it takes to keep going after a slip, or to keep striving for a goal, even when the conditions are imperfect. Rarely is the best position the one we find ourselves in, and this is often the position researchers study. The conditions are usually not ideal.
Slippage is normal. We are relapsing. How do we get back then? I think this insight into the importance of resilient habits is a first look at the kind of resilience required and the kind of strength we need to help people develop their plans, habits, and behaviors, if we are to make a truly lasting change.