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But the tricky business of actually succeeding at changing your habits for the better can be utterly elusive. Now, there’s new research suggesting how we talk to ourselves about what we believe in plays a big role.
University of Pennsylvania researcher Emily Falk has found that self-affirmation can help us accept health suggestions more readily.
Sure, the phrase self-affirmation sounds a lot like the Saturday Night Live Stuart Smalley affirmation gag: I’m good enough, smart enough and doggone it, people like me.
It can get you moving
But in the health sphere, psychologists and scientists have been studying how effective it can be to imagine yourself behaving well. It seems to reinforce what you believe are your core values -- and somehow spur you to take better care of yourself.
Dr. Falk and her team studied 67 sedentary adults who were asked to wear devices on their wrists to measure their activity levels for a week.
Then, the subjects were sent messages such as “According to the American Heart Association, people at your level of physical inactivity are at much higher risk for developing heart disease,” or “After an hour of sitting, try standing for five minutes. Stand up while you read, watch TV, talk on the phone, fold laundry, or write an email,” according to a statement.
Some participants were also sent self-affirming prompts such as “think of a time when you will help a friend or family member reach an accomplishment.”
The right kind of nudge
And guess what? That seemingly minor change resulted in a spike in the activity for those asked to reflect on good deeds and warm feelings in their past.
In addition to helping curb couch potato behaviour, other research in this area has found promise with other bad health habits and even academic performance in at-risk youth, according to the statement.
“Our findings highlight that something as simple as reflecting on core values can fundamentally change the way our brains respond to the kinds of messages we encounter every day,” Dr. Falk said in the statement. “Over time, that makes the potential impact huge.”
Think about that the next time you're gearing up to make a healthy change. Now, repeat after me: You are good enough. You got this.
Read more on the "sitting disease," and how to try mindfulness meditation.