Enlisting the support of your friends and family can be effective, says Busis—but there are caveats. It’s great when the people around you are on-board with your efforts and helping you eat better or be more active. You may want them to send you text reminders, or to ask you if you’ll put your fork down between bites. But ponder how you’ll feel giving someone else nominal control over your behavior: It might feel yucky. “It takes a lot of trial and error to figure out when and where the questions you’re asked feel helpful and when they feel like badgering,” she says. “Nobody wants to feel policed and that’s especially tricky with a spouse.” She advocates an honest, calm discussion about what questions work and when it might feel intrusive, offensive, overbearing, or discouraging.
Embrace the third person
Lebron James, Roger Federer, and even the teenage Nobel peace prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai all share a similar habit: they often talk about themselves in the third person. Turns out, it’s actually an effective tool for changing behavior and reducing stress, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. When we talk to ourselves in the second or third person, we create psychological distance. Think about how much better you are at advising a friend than advising yourself. Creating distance offers a new perspective and may allow you to cut yourself some slack. (You wouldn’t yell at or belittle a friend for making an understandable mistake, right?). The research suggests that somebody who uses the second or third person tends to recast stressful situations as challenges, rather than threats.
You’ll find this especially helpful when you’re facing food temptations, says Maidenberg. “We tend to bury or disregard unpleasant thoughts.” But when you recognize the conflict, you become more thoughtful, less impulsive, and make better decisions, she explains.
Mix it up
Having a question like “Will you exercise today?” posted on your bathroom mirror is highly effective—until, it’s not. Whether it’s a pop-up on your computer asking if you will eat a salad for lunch, a reminder on your smart phone to take do yoga, or a note posted on your fridge asking if you drank enough water, eventually you’ll block it out. “Once your reminders blend into the scenery, it gets ignored,” says Busis. “It becomes easy to dismiss an alarm or walk past a post-it.” To keep your questions and reminders effective, they need to be fresh,” says Busis. She recommends changing their location, what they say, or who—or what—delivers them to you.
Tech is your friend here. Various apps and alarms keep it new and novel. For example, Momentum, a Google Chrome extension, displays your main focus and an inspirational quote every time you open a blank Internet tab. If you use your phone as a prompt, try changing the alarm sound every week or so. Or rotate between written reminders, electronic reminders, and spousal reminders.