The One Thing You Absolutely Must Do If You Want To Make A New Habit Stick

Starting a plan to improve any aspect of your life is exciting, but if you want to accomplish your goal, there's one thing you can't afford to not do.

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Anticipation is worth the wait, and nobody knows this better than Dr. Chris Lee, founder and CEO of Elemental Shift, a neuroscience-based consulting company educating on brain-based creativity, productivity, motivation and research-based strategy for a healthier mindset.

It may be hard to imagine, but anticipation is a powerful force that can give us momentum. In fact, the feeling of anticipation releases twice the amount of dopamine compared to the actual reward itself.


When we think about our hard work, we may think about the results first — and it makes sense. We aren’t working out or studying hard for the heck of it!

So, if you want to start a new healthy habit, Lee stresses that it is absolutely critical to make sure you there is a reward worth anticipating waiting for you once you've gotten into it.

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A study conducted by neuroscientists from Duke University in 2016 explored how our cognitive control reacted when it came to different reward and task-informative cues. The timing conditions and early and late incentives were changed depending on the group.

Participants in the early incentive group received cues in a specific order, meaning it was much easier to anticipate them. The findings suggest that prolonged reward anticipation was associated with enhanced cognitive control.

By anticipating a reward, you can enhance your cognitive control and memory function, providing both a positive and encouraging mindset — which can help to sustain healthier habits in the long run!

Lee adds that if you want to establish a habit, the reward must be worth making the effort for, especially for those who struggle with anxiety.


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According to Lee, the key to dealing with anxiety lies in addressing unresolved mental and emotional loops every single day.

Our open loops from the past (mental or emotional) can impact the present and trigger more anxiety when we don’t close them.

“The fear systems are 12x faster than your frontal cortex so the meaning your brain naturally makes isn't kittens, rainbows, and cupcakes,” Lee says.

If that isn’t bad enough, he explains that when we wake up in the morning our brain is wired to think about the unchecked issues we had the day before.

If you don't close these loops by the end of the day, Lee says one of two things will happen:

1. Your brain will close them for you.


"You don't want this unless you've got your fear on lock," Lee warns.

2. Your brain will "put a pin in it" for tomorrow.

This, Lee notes, "is a huge trigger for morning anxiety."

In order to close your loops before you go to sleep, Lee recommends doing the following:

  • Take stock of four big events that stand out from your day.
  • Spend 90 seconds on each of them, "asking if that event feels complete. If not ask what it would take to finalize that loop."

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Marielisa Reyes is a writer with a bachelor's degree in psychology who covers self-help, relationships, career, and family topics.