It’s no accident that gyms hum with extra activity in January, and magazines are crowded with headlines about how to lose holiday pounds. But by the end of the month, many of us who have acted on our New Year’s resolutions are back to our old habits.
Scientists at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) and elsewhere have been working to uncover what makes people change unhealthy behavior. Psychologist and research investigator at KPWHRI, Ben Balderson, PhD, shared seven takeaways from the latest research.
Remember that if you’re planning significant behavior changes for better health, such as quitting smoking or improving your diet, you’re not in this alone. Talk to your doctor about the kinds of support that can help you to effectively change your behavior and achieve your health goals.
7 Steps to successfully change behavior
1. Develop a strategy.
Before setting goals, develop a strategy. Look at obstacles that hinder you, and how they can be overcome. If you want to exercise four days week, but child care is a barrier, figure out who will watch the kids.
2. Set short-term and long-term goals.
Long-term goals will motivate you, but short-term goals will get you there. A long-term goal might be reducing your intake of processed sugar to a specific gram level per day; your short-term goal could be to drink water instead of soda.
3. Set specific, measurable goals.
Research says this will yield better results, and you’ll be more likely to stick with your program. For example, a goal of walking 30 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday is much better than a vague “I will do more cardio.”
4. Make goals process oriented, not outcome oriented.
Setting a goal of doing cardio five times a week (process) often works better than a goal of losing 5 pounds (outcome).
5. Build in fun.
If you want to exercise more, plan an activity that you enjoy.
6. Set realistic goals.
Research shows that moderately difficult goals — those that are challenging but within your capabilities — work best.
If you get sidetracked or need to change goals, cross out the old one and put in the new one.
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