Who hasn’t lost 10 pounds only to gain back 15…or started working out every day only to fall back to once a week? Changing unhealthful habits is important—40% of premature deaths are linked to small things we can change. But the things we rely on to accomplish change—from journaling to willpower—often fall short. Behavior scientist Katy Milkman, PhD, recommends these new research-based tools to get past the obstacles…

Pick a meaningful “reset” day to start. A symbolic day will have a “clean slate” effect—the start of a season…a holiday…the first day of the next month…or simply the very next Monday.

Build instant gratification into your plan. Add elements of fun to turn reaching the goal into a game…

Temptation bundling. Restrict an indulgence to when you’re doing a virtuous activity. Example: Watch your favorite TV show only when you’re exercising.

Gamification. Look for a goal-­oriented app that rewards daily achievements with badges or stars.

Deploy “commitment devices.” Set up binding deadlines with penalties if you miss them. Examples…

Cash commitments. Set a goal…ask someone to track your progress…and give him/her a set amount of money that you’ll forfeit to a charity if you don’t stick to your plan.

Psychological price tag. Tell friends about your goal, and post it on social media. You will feel uncomfortable if you don’t reach it after having shared it with others.

Engineer new-habit reminders. The more things we juggle, the harder it is to keep track of our intentions. It’s easy to ignore the earlier bedtime you set for yourself when you’re working on an important project. What to do: Set a go-to-sleep alarm on your phone.

Link the new habit to something you already do. Floss right after brushing your teeth…link eating fruit with your morning coffee. The more you repeat a new task, the more habitual it becomes.

Be very detailed. Break big goals into manageable chunks, and write down the steps you’ll take to accomplish each chunk. If you are trying to lose 20 pounds, drill down to how you will lose one pound this week—how many fewer calories you will eat and where will you cut them out. Create a daily checklist to tick off each action.

Put actions on autopilot. Create automatic deposits into your retirement account with every paycheck. Use an online grocery-delivery service to stock up on healthy foods.

Factor in flexibility. Acknowledge that you might sometimes miss a workout or eat a high-calorie meal. Doing this will allow you to pick up where you left off and avoid letting a small slip turn into a major slide.

“Copy and paste.” Look to your circle of friends for people who were successful at what you want to achieve. Copy the strategies that fit your style.


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