Use 'One Good Thought' to Change Your Harmful Habit

To improve your life, connect with your core values. Try it right now!

Posted Feb 20, 2015

Image Source: Wikimedia

Can “one good thought” help you change a bad habit or reach a goal? It sounds odd, but yes, it can. Take the case of Lance Lynn.

Lynn is a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. Like many professional baseball players, past and present, he picked up the habit of chewing tobacco (also colorfully called “dipping,” “pinching,” and “snuffing”) as part of baseball tradition. But he knew that smokeless tobacco could cause mouth cancer, esophageal cancer and many other health problems, and he was about to become a father. He decided to quit by using "one good thought.”

That “one good thought,” he said, was “my daughter.” He stopped cold turkey and has remained tobacco-free for over two years. If ever tempted, he uses the thought of his daughter to keep on his chosen healthy path.

The Value of Values

“One good thought.” This wonderful phrase has stuck in my head ever since I read Lynn’s story. I love it when personal experiences and research point toward the same conclusion. In this case, the conclusion is: Reminding yourself of core values—such as family (“my daughter”), health, helping others, and so on—can activate your sense of purpose and thus boost your motivation to change. 

Image Source: Pixabay

Here are recent studies that confirm the power of your personal values:

  • Reflecting on their core values helped people become more open-minded to health advice.

In a recent study, of 67 volunteers, volunteers were shown health messages like “According to the American Heart Association, people at your level of physical inactivity are at much higher risk for developing heart disease,” or “After an hour of sitting, try standing for five minutes. Stand up while you read, watch TV, talk on the phone, fold laundry, or write an email.”

For some participants, these health messages were packaged with a values-affirmation* message like “think of a time when you will help a friend or family member reach an accomplishment.”  When health messages were paired with values affirmation, volunteers followed the advice more often than when volunteers received the health advice alone.

People who wrote stories about their core values performed better under stress.

In another study, some people wrote stories NOT related to their core values and others wrote stories about their core values.Those whose stories affirmed their values performed better at a stressful problem-solving task.

People who were reminded of important values had better self-control. 

In a study by psychologist Mark Muraven and associates, participants were asked to work on two frustrating puzzles. Group 1 was told: "Your work could help create new therapies for Alzheimer's disease." Group 2 was told: "Try your best." Which group performed best? Right, Group 1. The idea that they could be helping others gave their task some purpose.

Other studies also show that thinking about why you want to change, which puts you in touch with core values and goals, pumps up self-control.

Your “One Good Thought”

Let’s try a 5-minute experiment right now to see if the “one good thought” technique could work for you.

Step 1: First, think of a goal or habit change you’d like to work on.This change must be your own idea, something you really want to do, and specific enough so you know when you’ve succeeded. It could be “de-clutter my desk” or “exercise 4 times a week.” Got it?

Step 2: OK, now think about your core values.What really matters to you? Is it spirituality, achievement, making a contribution, health, family, relationships?

To jog your mind, here’s a partial list of values you might cherish:

Your family
Your life partner
Belief in a higher power
Your friends
Your creativity
Keeping your job

Your core values could be related to the goal or habit change you are working on or not. Surprisingly, any reminder of your values seem to activate your sense of purpose and give you energy for a variety of goals.

Step 3: Now write a paragraph or two on why this value is important to you.

Step 4: Create a short phrase, word, or mental image that best summarizes WHY you are changing—this is your “one good thought” (or, as I sometimes label it, your motivator). It doesn’t have to be complicated. Possible examples:

“Health first.”
“Exercise--for energy."
“Studying now means a better future later.”
Gratitude--to change my attitude."

Of course, once you make the decision to change a habit, you will need to create a simple plan for change and set a “Change Day.” Make your plan specific and include how you will deal with obstacles and setbacks.

When you need a reminder to persist or when your energy is depleted, dip back into your “one good thought.” Your “one good thought” can bring your life in line with your deepest values and inspire that change you’ve been longing to make.

(c) Meg Selig, 2015

I'm the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009). To follow me on Twitter or Facebook, click the icon below my photo (above). If you enjoyed this blog, you might also like these related blogs:

1. “To activate your willpower, ask this simple question”  2. “Motivated: The Essential First Step"

*”Values-affirmation.” Although researchers used the term “self-affirmation,” I prefer “values-affirmation,” as some readers might confuse “self-affirmation” with positive mantras that some people recite to themselves to lift their spirits (this technique can backfire, especially for those with low self-esteem, according to habit expert Jeremy Dean).


“My daughter.” Tressa, J. “Lynn among the major leaguers who kicked the habit

Many other health problems. Mayo Clinic, "Health Risks of Chewing Tobacco..."

Open to health advice. Falk, E. "A simple intervention can make your brain more receptive to health advice"

List of values. Performed better under stress. Dean, J. "Perform Better Under Stress Using Self-Affirmation"

Muraven, M. & Slessareva, E. "Mechanisms of Self-Control Failure: Motivation and Limited Resources." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2003; 29; pp. 894 ff.

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