4 Ways to Hack Your Behavior for the Better

Retrain your brain.

Let’s face it: Most of us have slipped into some not-ideal habits in the last year-plus.

As our collective survival mode slowly shifts back to “normal” life – however unfamiliar it might feel – you might be ready to integrate some new habits into your routine (or just to create a routine altogether).

Even if you see the long-term benefits, swapping out old practices for healthier ones can be hard work. Here are four psychological tricks for kickstarting new routines and making them stick.



 
 
1.

Bundle a Healthy Habit with an Indulgence

Can’t muster up motivation? Research suggests that “temptation bundling,” or pairing healthy habits with indulgences, can increase willpower. Temptation bundling works best when you couple something you don’t feel like doing with a source of instant gratification – for example, you could watch an episode of “The Bachelor” on a stationary bike ride or promise yourself your favorite dessert after you organize the garage. The next-best part about it? Doing something meaningful or productive also zaps the guilt from the indulgence, at least a little.

Illustration by Alexander Vidal

 

 



 
 
2.

Fake a Fresh Start

Researchers associate temporal landmarks, or momentous dates like the start of a new year or month, with an uptick in aspirational behavior – but you don’t have to wait for a turn of the calendar page to form healthy habits. Instead, trick your brain by faking your own momentous occasion. Whether you move around your office furniture, clean out your basement or get a haircut, that fresh-start feeling is a sure motivation booster.

Illustration by Alexander Vidal



 
 
3.

Break it into Bite-Sized Chunks

Staring down a major long-term goal like running a marathon or redecorating your whole home can feel intimidating. Like, where do you even start? Try breaking a larger goal into smaller chunks – running a few miles a day or painting one room a week. You’ll not only have a concrete place to begin; you’ll also be more likely to stick it out when you punctuate long-term plans with tiny wins.

Illustration by Alexander Vidal



 
 
4.

Anchor it to an Existing Habit

If setting an alarm isn’t quite the push you need, attach a new habit to something you already do. For instance, if you want to meditate more, do a deep-breathing and mindfulness exercise after you make your bed or while you wait for your coffee to brew each morning. The tangible reminder of fluffing a pillow or switching on the Mr. Coffee will strengthen habit-forming pathways in your brain, making the new task more memorable and, hopefully, longer-lasting.

Illustration by Alexander Vidal


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s July issue.

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Lindsey Anderson covers culture for Milwaukee Magazine. Before joining the MilMag team she worked as an editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and wrote freelance articles for ArtSlant and Eater.