Quit smoking.

Illustration: Alex Nabaum

1. The Tipping Point
And now for something completely different: five out-of-the-box approaches to help you change a habit, a mind-set or the way you think about change. By Tim Jarvis

In his best-selling book of the same name, Malcolm Gladwell describes the moment of critical mass when ideas, products, and group behaviors "tip" into the culture and take root. Research shows that personal behavior has its own tipping points: In many cases, the more times you try to change a habit, the more likely you are to ultimately succeed. "To cease smoking is the easiest thing I ever did. I ought to know; I've done it 1,000 times," Mark Twain reportedly said. While he may have been joking, it does take the average smoker eight to 10 attempts before being able to quit, according to Steven Schroeder, MD, director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at UCSF. Also, research shows that using various methods together—peer support, counseling combined with medications—helps tip your odds in favor of stopping for good.
Measuring tape

Illustration: Alex Nabaum

2. The Green Light
Environmentalists live for the day we will discover a fuel source that is naturally replenished. In a personal way, each of us is literally standing on our own wellspring of renewable energy—our feet. All we need to do is get them moving. According to research, regular exercise not only alleviates fatigue but is invigorating. So dreading the effort you'll expend at the gym or sweating to exhaustion is misguided; instead, look forward to the renewed energy you'll gain. If you're a die-hard exercise hater, try just walking 30 minutes three times a week, suggests Woodson Merrell, MD, chairman of the department of integrative medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and author of The Source. "It's like plugging into a power grid."

Illustration: Alex Nabaum

3. The Community
Wikipedia, the publicly edited online encyclopedia, has fundamentally changed the way we think about information—and the power of collaboration. "We know one of the things that effects change is community," says the site's co-founder, Jimmy Wales. (Just having a friend along when you're facing a hill, according to a recent study, causes you to estimate the slope as less steep than if you are alone.) Wales suggests that the new upgrade in motivation is anonymous support. As he puts it: "You may not want to tell your friends, 'I'm trying to lose 10 pounds—will you help me?' But in an online community, you don't face that embarrassment. Also, people with the same goals can discuss all the conflicting ideas out there and come up with good strategies for change." For what it's worth, wiki is Hawaiian for "hurry."
Woman in space

Illustration: Alex Nabaum

4. Quantum Leap of Faith
Rather than thinking about your experience as the be-all and end-all of reality, take a giant step back and see yourself and the Earth in the grand landscape of space and time," suggests Brian Greene, PhD, an expert in superstring theory (which posits that there are 10 dimensions of space). Greene, who has made quantum physics accessible through books like The Elegant Universe, says, "Take an even larger step back and visualize the innumerable parallel universes you may be inhabiting, living out your life in different ways." In other words, imagine all your possible selves—thinner, fitter, organized—as already within you. "A change of perspective," he says, "is often the most powerful way to make a change."
Candy in a bowl

Photo: © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation

5. The "Right" Way
Count your calories (or carbs or sets or reps), stick to the formula, and you'll lose weight—that's the left brain approach; ah, if only it could seal the deal. But it's the right brain that sees the bigger picture and looks for meaning, which is crucial in tackling a goal like this, says Daniel H. Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. "To effectively change a habit, you must hook your individual steps to a larger purpose that you can keep coming back to," he says. Pink suggests using your right brain's skills to pay attention to moments when you feel most alive and fully engaged. You may notice that bad habits like indulging in a candy fix relieve tension and give the illusion of a lift "but don't provide any deep fulfillment," he says. Once you see that, it's easier to change. Pink isn't the only one talking about awareness as a health tool: The U.S. government is funding a study on whether mindfulness techniques can help you lose weight.

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