Study: Dump Your Bad Habits, All at the Same Time

Exploring Intensity

Study: Dump Your Bad Habits, All at the Same Time

If there is one thing we think about when the new year is upon is, it’s all of the bad habits we’re going to jettison. We’ll eat better, exercise more, drink less, stop smoking… the list (for some of us) can be quite long. And while we may think that all of this can happen at once when we’re a little heady from New Year’s champagne, we usually decide to take it slow and steady, trying to knock down one before we take aim at another.

But a new study actually shows evidence that the more we try to change at once the more successful we’ll be.

Researchers at the University of California recruited 31 students to see what happens if people change their lives with one giant swoop – and not gradually.

The students were all given a range of tests, from physical to emotional to cognitive. Then half of them didn’t do anything different. But the others fundamentally changed their lives. According to this article:

[T]hey visited the school for an hour of supervised stretching, resistance training and balance exercises, followed by an hour of training in mindfulness and stress reduction, which included quiet walks and meditation. In the afternoon, they exercised for an additional 90 minutes. Twice a week they completed two interval-style endurance workouts on their own. They attended lectures about nutrition and sleep and kept daily logs detailing their exercise, diets, sleep patterns and moods.

Quite a difference and, as you may think, too much too fast. These kinds of crazy shifts are probably too much for someone to handle. But after six weeks, the people who turned their lives upside down “were substantially stronger, fitter and more flexible. They performed much better on tests of thinking, focus and working memory. They also reported feeling happier and calmer; their self-esteem was much higher. Their brain scans showed a pattern of activity believed to indicate a greatly enhanced ability to stay focused.”

Now, this doesn’t really prove anything, and we see a lot of issues with the study. The sample size of only 39 is too small, the control group should have probably dumped at least habit instead of doing nothing and, as this article points out, undergrad students don’t exactly have normal schedules. And this article argues that we should try and dump our bad habits incrementally. Also, while six weeks after that the same subjects still were in better shape physically and mentally, they had also significantly cutback on their new routines.

In other words, we are not convinced. But if you are feeling that you need to take a cue from the slow-and-steady tortoise when it comes to making changes, maybe look at what the hare has to offer instead.

-Shane M.