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Episode 34: The 3 Rs to making (real) habit changes

Video Highlights

Hi everybody, Dr. Cobb back with you.

I hope you’re having a fantastic week.

Now this week what I want to start to dig more deeply into is our ongoing conversation around behavior change, changing habits. Because if 2014 is going to be the very best year of your life, what that is going to require is for you to look at what you’re currently doing and figure out what you need to change, and then make the change happen.

Now whenever we’re trying to change a habit or change a behavior there are three Rs to remember. The first is that you need a reminder. The second is that you need a routine. And the third is you need a reward.

Today we’re going to talk about the first step which is the reminder. When I talk to people about changing habits around exercise, fitness, rehabilitation, whatever it is, a lot of people tell me, “I just don’t have the willpower or self-discipline to get started every day.” Well, actually research disagrees. What most research shows us is that the reason that we have such a hard time developing new habits or better habits is that we go about it the wrong way. We believe it’s about our self-discipline, when in fact it’s about our memory. Most of us need a constant daily reminder of what we’re trying to enact in our lives.

To talk about this a little bit today what I’ve got, I’m wearing a bracelet. Now this bracelet is just a braided pair of cord and basically this was made and sold by soldiers. It was something I bought from a non-profit organization that was giving the money to the Wounded Warrior Foundation.

But the thing that I want you to understand is that when I bought this it wasn’t just a support to soldiers once, but to actually support the soldiers on a daily basis. I’ve worked with a lot of law enforcement and soldiers over my career and around my life and I’m incredibly thankful for what they do, and I try to make sure to thank them when I see them, but also to offer up the occasional prayer or just a mental thank you for the men and women that keep us safe.

When I put this bracelet on and I wear it most days, what I’ve trained myself to do is that when I first put it on I see it and it reminds me to be grateful. Then throughout the day, guess what, I wash my hands. So when I wash my hands, before I eat or after I’ve worked with someone, when I wash my hands I see the bracelet and it gives me an opportunity to be thankful again.

See the thing about a great reminder is that it’s not an all day everyday reminder. It is a frequent periodic reminder around the times when you can do something about it. I’m going to offer you one suggestion for this month or this week. I really want you to think about this. Maybe you have a bracelet. Maybe you could take a big rubber band and write a question or an idea or whatever on it.

For instance, if you have a problem with spending when you go to a store, you take a big wide rubber band and write on it, “Do I really need to buy this?” As a result, every time you’re picking something up in the store you see the rubber band and you get to ask yourself the important question at the most important time. And when that happens, it begins to allow you to have a reminder or cue to make a different decision.

For this week, like I said, I want you to ponder the idea of wearing your reminders. However you can do that. It could be necklaces, it can be bracelets, it can be clothing, it can be something you carry around. But what I want you to understand is that the power of this strategy is that you have to link the object to the action. When that happens, like I said for me, every time I wash my hands I see the bracelet, all of a sudden I can start to very quickly not need the external reminder so much anymore. But when I have this available and I use it for days and weeks, I begin to develop new brain structures that are going to allow me to enact a new habit almost effortlessly.

So please quit worrying so much about yourself self-discipline and your willpower. Look at the research. The research says what you really need is reminder and there are a tremendous number of ingenious ways to build them into your lives. I hope you find this helpful.

Have a fantastic week.

I look forward to being with you soon.


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