Should I try to change more than one habit at a time?

Old science told us to stick to one thing at a time when it came to change. After all, the argument went, a person has only so much effort and brain agility to go around.

New science, much of it coming from the University of Rhode Island, tells us that you’re just as likely to be successful in undertaking two changes at once, particularly if they’re related. Exercise and weight loss, smoking and stress management, relationships and communication are three examples of natural pairing. Two’s a charm!

When we alter something about ourselves, we increase the likelihood that we alter other things about ourselves -- we can correlate two conditions or states of being. This is especially true with regard to behavior; modifying one behavior increases the likelihood of changing another behavior. In a series of controlled studies carried out by colleagues at the University of Rhode Island, people were several more times likely to improve their exercise and eating habits if they changed the target behavior, of, say, complying with their medication use.

You can leverage this power and undertake a couple of related goals at the same time. Since more than half of alcohol abusers also smoke cigarettes and because smoking frequently triggers an urge for a drink, you can immediately see how they can be targeted at the same time or in sequence for maximum effect.

Given the reality of our busy lives, two is probably the right number of goals for most humans to tackle at any one time. Go for two if they are synergistic, such as increasing exercise and healthy eating at the same time or enhancing relationships and communication simultaneously. Planning such pairings can produce the greatest results.

Continue Learning about Healthy Habits

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.