10 Scientific Keys to Changing Anything In Your Life

Changing your behavior is hard.

Luckily, there is a lot science can tell us about how to go about it in a way that gives you the best chance of success.

Anyone who is trying to change their behavior without understanding this science needs to stop, now. Read up on the science. Learn to do it the more effective way.

Then, start again, with better strategies, and create the life you’ve always wanted.

Here’s the other thing you should know: behavior change is hard. Not hard like algebra; hard like piano. You will work on it for “a while” before you get to that dream-life.

What is “a while”? Years.

But that’s okay. The secret of self-development is that everybody has to work hard and put in a lot of work. We’re all together in that.

It just so happens that here at Fierce Gentleman we believe that every man is destined for greatness. So, below we give you a few of the keys that have made the biggest difference in our own lives: 10 scientific keys you need to put your life on a much better track in the future.

Of course, information alone does not lead to life change. (That’s one of the keys.)

But never before has so much high-quality, scientifically-validated information been available for free, to anyone, to get their path started.

You need to learn the information. Then you need to translate it into action.

10 Scientific Keys to Change Any Behavior

  1. Willpower is weak. Environmental influences are much more important than willpower. (1,2)
  2. Information does not lead to action. Emotions lead to action. (Tweet this) This one is harder to back up with scientific studies, but it has long been my personal experience….over 8 years of studying both my own behavior, and the behavior of others who I’m trying to help. Information allows us to know in which direction we can go, but ultimately, emotions motivate us to take action. See also (2)
  3. The Internet destroys your ability to focus. Unless you’re reading long-form articles or serious journalism. But if you’re using the Internet like most people, it’s eroding your attentional abilities.
  4. Facebook makes you unhappy. Delete your account (unless you’re using it for business.) (3)
  5. Today’s processed foods are engineered to flood the reward centers of your brain, and potentially trigger food addictions that will wreck your health and wellbeing. Eat vegetables instead. (4,5)
  6. Exercise makes your brain bigger. It also gives you more self-control, lifts depression, and stamps out anxiety. (6)
  7. Meditation makes your brain bigger. It also gives you more self-control, lifts depression, and stamps out anxiety. Because of how important this is, we built a 30-day program that trains you daily to build a meditation habit daily. It’s the easiest way to build a 20-minute a day habit. (7)
  8. Give up alcohol. The breakdown of alcohol in your body creates toxins that cause cancer. It is also extra calories that will contribute to extra fat storage. The additional toxic load can make you sick. And drinking and driving (or just being out around other drunk drivers) can kill you.  Give up alcohol. Our buddy James Swanwick has a great program for doing just this which you can check out here (affiliate link). (10)
  9. Take time off work. Overwork drains your willpower and makes you stressed and sick. (We speak from personal experience.) Take targeted time off work for active recovery, rest and relaxation. Here is a list of 14 healthy habits that will help you recover.
  10. Maximize neurotransmitters oxytocin, GABA and serotonin. Minimize activities that have you chasing the dopamine dragon. Activities that stimulate dopamine: shopping, gambling, pornography, binge eating. Activities that stimulate serotonin, oxytocin & GABA: getting a massage, swing in a hammock, spending time with loved ones, meditating, praying, listening to music, reading. (See The Willpower Instinct.)

That’s enough for most people to start with. If you’re ready for more –

Click here to get the full ebook with 23 principles

Each of the 23 principles could be a textbook in its own right, given the amount of research that has been done in that area — and there is much, much more to be said about how to actually implement changes using these principles in your own life.

But the information is out there. There is enough knowledge freely available to completely change your life and make it into whatever you wish — if you are able to take action.

As I used to say when I was working with adult students, “There are tons of ways to be an F student, but only a few ways to be an A student.

Whenever I study another person who is really achieving greatness in life, I see them doing one of a small number of very similar things.

If you do the things they do, you will be much more likely to get the results they get.

SOURCES 

The above list (and the ebook with the full 23 principles) is comprised of research from dozens of books and research articles on the subject of willpower, habit formation, interpersonal neurobiology, and cognitive science, and drawn from my own experience of being involved at the ground-level of helping other people change their patterns, habits, and lives for over 7 years.

If you’re interested in further reading, see the excellent books, articles and presentations below.

  1. The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal
  2. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  3. Review this brief presentation on Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg
  4. Paper The Physiology of Willpower: Linking Blood Glucose to Self Control; see also studies by Baba Shiv at Stanford
  5. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard
  6. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
  7. Facebook Use Predicts Decline in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults
  8. Evidence for sugar addiction
  9. Daily bingeing on sugar releases dopamine
  10. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey
  11. A whole host of studies on how meditation increases cortical thickness
  12. Ahluwalia & Burnkrant, 2004; Burnkrat & Howards, 1984; Hotgraves & Yang, 1990; Sheldon et all 2003.
  13. Literature review of effects of sleep deprivation on decision making
  14. http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

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Also published on Medium.

75 Comments 10 Scientific Keys to Changing Anything In Your Life

  1. Ula

    Thank you for putting this information together! :) Those tips are powerful: less, Internet, FB is senseless and the truth about emotions vs. rational arguments.

    Reply
  2. Jessi

    Respect – very very well said. Finally someone said the right thing about facebook!!! Social media is good for business but trust me not for pleasure. Thanks for sharing

    Reply
  3. Kripi

    One of the best articles I have read. I completely agree with all this, saying after self experience :-)
    Thank you for sharing it, I will be spreading it. It’s a life essential indeed.

    Reply
  4. Dr. Suchet Chaudhary

    Thank you Drew for writing this piece of wisdom.. it makes a lot of sense! I routinely practise a lot of it.. as my common sense and dealing with life taught me. It was overwhelming when I stumbled upon this post of yours.. quite affermative it is.

    Reply
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  6. Claudette

    Hi Andrew,
    Thanks very much for this list. I have being trying to get myself motivated enough to start an exercise program and after reading yhis i believe I am. Thanks very much for the inspiration.

    Claudette

    Reply
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  8. TobyJensen

    I get excited when people start thinking critically about self-improvement. While the popular side of talking people up gets a lot of flack then I get a chance to explain how change actually works. First time ever done.

    Having loved self-improvement most of my life I set out to find an exact method to producing change. Little did I know when I started what a development it would be for me. Over twenty-five years later I can finally describe how change actually takes place within us.

    Gutap – the system to achieving core level change of any limiting belief.

    If you were programmed you can now be reprogrammed.

    The self-improvement steps:
    1. Feel the feeling of your false belief to know it.
    You have to feel your feelings in order to change them.

    2. Find what the false or limiting belief truly wants you to know to be better.
    What does the false belief actually want you to know that is positive?

    3. Connect that feeling of the positive answer (not necessarily the concept or picture) to the negative feeling of the false belief to let it flow into negative feeling to change it.
    The positive feelings change it – you don’t.

    The example I use for proof of Gutap is anger. Forgive. Forgiveness cures anger almost instantly. When you are angry and you forgive them your anger is gone. It takes one feeling to heal another. Every “negative” feeling has its own positive healing feeling.

    Reply
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  10. Paul Germana

    Wow,
    I have always felt this way. Will power IS weak! Environment is key. Information does NOT lead to action, infact it leads to apathy with the deliberate decision to act on it NOW. Of course #10 has to be my favorite, because we are merely creatures of habit. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Reply
  11. Jon L.

    I would like to hear your opinion in regards to my opinion on alcohol (#8). Through personal experience and reading, I have found that alcohol in moderation loosens the brain and helps one become more creative, which then helps me in my projects where creativity is necessary and also in creative problem solving… Therefore I would not say give it up, but use it to your advantage and in moderation…

    Also In regards to your first statement would have to say that environmental factors are a strong influence, but in my own experience will power is more important because humans have the power to change their environment when motivated…

    I would have to say the rest of your list Is very good and should be read and followed by more people…

    Reply
    1. Drew

      Hey Jon,
      You can read more of my opinions on Alcohol in “Smoking, Drinking & Sexual Misconduct” http://fiercegentleman.com/smoking-drinking-sexual-misconduct/ In which I come down pretty firmly in the no-alcohol camp. I personally find my creativity sparked by stimulants such as caffeine, rather than a central nervous system suppressant.

      The exception I make to alcohol is in order to enhance the flavors of a certain meal — wine is particularly good at this. But this most be done deliberately and with intention, not as an excuse to get drunk.

      Reply
  12. Zozo

    You’re not only a Fearce Gentle Man ! You’re also a GOOD man :)

    Thanks you for all the valuable advices you share with us.

    Your blog helps me to improve my life quality. Bravo !

    Reply
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  14. Kari

    I think number 9 is actually affecting me right now. I was just thinking about how nice it would be to go out with my husband and do something instead of standing here on the computer. I think my emotions just got the best of me, and I will shut it down. ;)

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      Hey Zycco, my bet is on the “comparison effect.” Everyone else is only posting the edited glamorous version of their lives, and so in social comparison, we think everyone is living a better life than us, and we feel bad about ourselves / jealous of them.

      Reply
    2. Kari

      As someone who deleted her Facebook account, I can tell you what it makes you unhappy. In fact, I wrote about it! http://behappytips.com/deleted-facebook-account-scary-yes-worth/ But to sum it up, I spent too much time trolling around looking at meaningless things, people would post horrible images that affected me deeply – sadness and anger mostly, and I felt horrible at the end of the day when I had spent way too much time on Facebook and not enough time on working or my personal life. I do use it for a few pages I run, but now that I don’t have ‘friends’ on Facebook, I don’t bother doing anything else on it.

      Reply
      1. Drew

        Thanks for the comment Kari! I agree with you and would not be in Facebook if it were not for this blog and using it to spread the message of Fierce Gentleman.

        Reply
        1. McNamara

          i strongly believe social media is a powerful source of communication if it use on the right way and for the right pourpuse , FB is one of the most powerful ones

          Reply
  15. Mex Gent

    I also want to give up Facebook but, as you say, I run a bussiness, and being Facebook as popular as it is with most prospect clients, it feels like a tight rope that force me to stay on the draining social network.

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      Hey Mex, I know what you’re saying. I also use Facebook for business. My rule here: limit FB use to 15-20 min a day business purposes only. I stay out of my “social” news feed and ONLY visit groups where I have business reasons to be there. I use CTRL-F to find certain topics or words in groups and stay laser focused on those conversations. These are just a few ideas — hope they help.

      Reply
  16. Mike

    You lost credibility in my eyes when i read number eight. That statement was such a stretch, i did not even read the rest of the article. Alcohol leads to death? Though I myself am not a party-er, a wino, or daily bourbon sipper, I will defend alcohol from your opinion. You have a personal vendetta with it, and it is causing bias in your writing.

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      Alcohol is directly or indirectly responsible for 88,000 deaths per year and causes 1 in 10 deaths in the age range 20 – 64. Don’t trust me, trust the CDC. Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  17. Mike Addington

    Pretty good on everything except #2. Emotion sparks quick action but has nothing of substance to sustain it & you are soon back at the same old unhealthy habits. Change comes from a decision as does love and is sustained by commitment, dedication, & discipline. Nothing else leads to change. I am 58 and I guarantee you I have saw emotion in action. It has no substance.

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      Mike, what you’re calling decision, commitment, dedication and discipline is what is called “identity-level change.” Emotion is the 2nd level of change, identity is the 3rd and deepest. What sustains high levels of commitment, dedication and discipline? Emotion & your need to be consistent with how you’ve defined yourself. These the engine that run behavior change. Emotions have a *huge* amount of substance and staying power and will continue to because of how humans are wired. Thanks for your contribution.

      Reply
  18. Heather

    Every journey starts somewhere. Put one foot in front of the other. 2 key elements to begin- 1) Start small. Pick something you want to change, and do or don’t do (if you’re trying to stop) it every day for 3 weeks straight. 21 days seems to be the magic number for enforcing a good habit. 2) Resisting a bad habit. Yes, wait 10 minutes. It really works :D Good luck everyone!

    Reply
  19. Cornelius

    I was totally agree about facebook. It was ruining ma life, draining away ma vitality. horrendous! It was I tell you!
    Ever since I deleted it I have noticed certain changes in ma life. I was about to give in to an urge. It was so tempting because the sock was right there, waiting for me to abuse it. But I waited 10 min and it went away! I am amazed. I am on the path to changing ma life and change my behavior. Thank you so much!
    Sincerely,
    Cornelius L.

    Reply
  20. Jake

    Wow, this is a great write-up. I recently finished “The Willpower Instinct” and thought it was an amazing read. Definitely saving this on Evernote!

    Reply
  21. James from GTDNext.com

    #11 and #12 seem to be the key to the rest of the 23. It’s all about creating good habits and starting small.

    Here is what I have been doing and it seems to working okay. In GTDNext (my app at http://GTDnext.com) I have created a list of habits I want to implement. The key is I haven’t tried to do all of them at once. I pick one per month.

    When each month rolls around I set up a daily task so I can track if I did that habit item. This has helped me stay on track. I’ve also used 3×5 note cards with reminders that I put in various places when I start a new habit. My bathroom mirror, propped up on my monitor, in my car.

    The combination of all those things seems to be helping!

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      Great strategies James. Focus is a really important part of behavior change: only try to change ONE small thing at a time…and stick with it until you’ve got it. We actually have something in the works on that topic here.

      Reply
  22. Jitendra

    The tips shares in the article are very inyerstong, well at least frw of them. They are contradictory to what many in the self help cottage industry peddle to make a living. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      Thanks for the comment jitendra! Some of this stuff is different because it’s all reality-based, not theory-based. Glad you found it useful!

      Reply
  23. Dan Martinez

    I want to say thank you in advance. I am about to begin my journey back to normality. But the normalcy you speak of not the one I have been stuck in. I would like to know more. I am 43 years old married to a wonderful woman who is 29, we also have a 20 month old. So there are reasons to be so very thankful I came accross your writings, reasons besides myself that is. My wife and I, we have a wonderful friendship. So as hard as it is going to be I will have support. I have always had one question and that was Where do I begin? Well now I know I will start here and go with yourbsuggests …. I can’t thank you enough!!

    Dan

    Reply
  24. Megan

    Thanks for this excellent list of references! I’m adding a bunch of them to my reading list. Also, while I’ve read lots of online articles about willpower and habit changing, I have to say, you make a few points in here that I had never heard before, so congratulations on being new, different, and seriously helpful.

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      Hello Megan – thank YOU for commenting. Your words are seriously encouraging, because I too read many, many articles on these topics, and sometimes worry about re-treading well-worn ground. I’m glad you found it helpful instead of a rehash.

      Reply
  25. L33t Android Developer

    The trick is go tiny but consistent steps. I came to a point in life where having a lucrative careers was next to life & death. Being a social sciences major programming looked like what Mount Everest would to an ant. I started anyway taking small steps at a time spending 20 Hrs of my day learning how to program and within 7 months I had landed a job as a Junior Developer.

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      Yup, very true. Thanks for adding this comment. The way to move a mountain is to start by carrying away small stones. And congratulations on your new job!

      Reply
  26. Sarah

    I really enjoyed reading this…
    I have spent so many years of my life trying to put these kinds of principles into action, yet the motivation to be motivated to put these kinds of things into action seems to be missing. What you said about your environment, and emotions having a lot to do with your actions and motivation, is very intriguing. I wish I knew more successful people, so that I could watch what they do, listen to their words and advice on a day to day basis. Having an open mind and learning how to ACTUALLY listen to what someone has to say is one of the most wonderful lessons I have learned thus far, and I wish I could exercise it more with people like you, who understand these things. Again, great article.

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      Hello Sarah,
      Thank you for the comment :) I’m glad you find it useful.

      Here’s something you might consider: you can listen to the words and advice of successful people on a daily basis if you know where to look. If you have a woman you admire, find talks she’s given on YouTube, listen to audios, or maybe she’s written a book. Even someone who is 2 steps ahead of you in an area you want to improve in (fitness, romance, money) will be able to show useful mindset shifts.

      One I’d recommend is Kelly McGonigal (mentioned in the article) and another more spiritual successful woman is Marianne Williamson (she ran for Congress recently.)

      Hope this helps you on your journey.

      Reply
      1. Alicia

        Hello! Great article. I just wanted to point out on being open to listening.. its not just successful people that are worthy of a listen. There is MUCH to be learned from the story of failure. In my opinion, it is just as important. Cheers!

        Reply
        1. Andrew

          Hi Alicia! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I fully agree with you. Often, the most interesting stories we can hear from successful people is the stories of their many failures. I don’t know a single successful person who didn’t have a string of failures before their big breakout. (Well, maybe Jennifer Lawrence.) Anyway – good point, and thank you for your contribution!

          Reply
    1. Andrew

      No worries! These are all points that have been massively influential in my life so I wanted to share them. I encourage people with the inclination and time to read the books listed, or at least watch the BJ Fogg presentation (it’s very short). Thanks for the comment!

      Reply

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