4. Keep the good habit going for three weeks. A fresh, new habit can be easy for two weeks. Then boredom sets in, as does the temptation to backslide. “We start rationalizing, we find reasons not to go to the gym because it’s not a new habit yet,” explains Coral Arvon, director of behavioral health and wellness at Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami. Soldier through that two-week mark, and don’t let setbacks (sneaking a smoke, too much birthday cake) provide an excuse to abandon your good intentions. See these as mere lapses. Swing back into the new habit. After three weeks, or 21 days, the new habit should become second nature, Arvon says.
5. Get support. Addicts lapse when they lack support, says Kevin Kappler, a California psychologist who specializes in drug and alcohol addiction. To help break a habit, find professional support—a doctor, a weight loss program, even therapy—and ask for support from friends and family “who encourage and reinforce positive changes,” he says.
6. Exercise. Research shows that regular exercise raises the level of a key protein dubbed BDNF, which encourages the growth of new neurons in the brain. And new neurons are essential to rewiring the brain for healthy habits, says Subhash Pandey, director of neuroscience alcoholism research at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Indeed, low levels of this key protein are linked to alcoholism and other destructive habits, Pandey notes. But here’s the good news. To create those new neurons, exercise “doesn’t have to be a marathon,” he says. Regular walking will do it.
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Lisa Bertagnoli is a freelance writer who lives in Chicago.