Various Habit Advisories

Behavioral scientist and Professor Katy Milkman’s message is that in order to promote positive life changes, you don’t have to be a hyper-achiever with the willpower of steel. You just need to cultivate the habit of cultivating positive habits. Assigning various life activities to “autopilot” eliminates temptation. People who have pioneered this path are always ready to share their secrets. This author has five.

One is to set a specific goal. “I will do some walking every day” is a good start, but “I will at least walk around the block every day” has a better chance of turning into a solid habit. Another is to make a plan that is both detailed and tied to some other circumstance. For example,

A plan like “I’ll study Spanish for 30 minutes, five days a week” is OK. But a detailed, cue-based plan like “Every workday after my last meeting, I’ll spend 30 minutes studying Spanish in my office” is much more likely to stick as a habit. Making this kind of plan reduces the chances you’ll forget to follow through because the when and where in your plan will serve as cues to action that jog your memory.

Dr. Milkman’s third suggestion is to bring fun into the equation. “Regular exercise” is a bit broad. Solidifying it into one dance workout class per week plus one rock-climbing session per week is a promise of two enjoyable activities every seven days. And who doesn’t like fun? Then, there is “temptation-bundling”:

Consider only letting yourself enjoy an indulgence you crave while working toward your goal. For example, only let yourself binge-watch your favorite show while at the gym or enjoy a beloved podcast while cooking healthy meals. My own research shows that temptation bundling improves follow-through; it transforms goal pursuit into a source of pleasure, not pain.

Fourth, allow yourself some leeway at the start, and that flexibility can allow for addition as well as postponement. It may be necessary to put off your promised around-the-block walk until after lunch. But it can also mean doing a morning walk and then a bonus afternoon walk.

Suggestion number five is, “Find the right kind of social support”:

Good habits are contagious, so try to catch some by hanging out with people who are a little ahead of you on the learning curve… You’re probably better off joining an established running club, than asking a few friends who aren’t yet in the habit of jogging to get in shape with you. People in the running club have already built the habits you want.

Incidentally, the BrainWeighve program, the brainchild of Dr. Pretlow and his team, is big on specific planning, and the smartphone app guides the user through the process of making and solidifying plans. Check out the User Manual and see!

Source: “How to build a habit in 5 steps, according to science,”, 11/29/21
Image by liveactionsports/CC BY 2.0

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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