Abstract Thinking Could Help You Change Your Behavior (and Lose Weight, Too)

Thinking in broad, abstract terms may help you make positive behavioral changes in your life like quitting smoking or losing weight, a new study suggests.

Let’s say you have an immediate choice between a healthy snack like a handful of walnuts or an unhealthy snack like a bag of potato chips (dieters may recognize this as a common, often agonizing scenario). If you think largely “in the moment” you are more likely to focus on and prioritize taste and pleasure over healthiness, and you might be persuaded to choose the unhealthy chips, researchers from Ohio State University say.

However, if you can re-contextualize as a more abstract choice between, say, weight loss and selfish pleasure, you’re more likely to pick the healthy option, their study finds.

This broad-minded thinking may be key to the ability to harness your self-control, stop unhealthy eating habits, battle addiction, or rein in your finances, the study authors suggest.

The study appears in the August 2012 issue of the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.

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