New Year, New You - Behaviour Change Tips - January 2017
The new year is often
seen as a time of renewal. The practice of making resolutions dates
back to the time of ancient Babylonians. While many people make resolutions,
only 10 percent of people are able to sustain a change after a few months. Why
are the majority unsuccessful? One pitfall is setting up too many resolutions.
People also fail because of what is called the false hope syndrome
which means they have unrealistic expectations about changing their
behaviour in terms of time, amount, ease and consequences. Remember too that
change doesn't need to happen on January 1; rather, it can happen at any time of
the year. On a positive note, by making a New Year's resolution you are ten
times more likely to achieve your goal than someone who does not make a
resolution. If you can sustain the behaviour for a few months, the new routine
will have taken over and your new behavior will become automatic. The following
ideas can help you make and sustain change.
Goal setting -
Setting goals allows you to plan and focus your change efforts. Goals
should be concrete, specific, measurable, and realistic. Think of achieving your
goal as an adventure or experiment. Here are some points about goal setting:
Get a support
network - Whether it be a friend, co-worker or family
member, someone else on your journey will keep you motivated and accountable.
Find a buddy who has the same goals and work together to support one another.
Talk about what you are doing. Consider joining a support group. When you have
someone available to share your struggles and successes, the work is easier and
the goal is less intimidating. Be aware that some people will be negative and
will resist your change of habits. Do not allow them to sabotage you. Another
option is to join the Self-Management BC Self-Management Health Coach
Program. A trained health coach supports people to make healthy
lifestyle changes. Participants receive a weekly 30 minute phone call for a
period of three months. For more information, please visit the website or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Professional health coaches are also
available, along with personal trainers or counselors.
- You can have short term goals (weekly), intermediate (3 months) and
long-term (6 months). For example, a long-term goal could be to lose 10 pounds
but a short term weekly plan could be to stop snacking after dinner for three
evenings a week to achieve the goal.
- Ask yourself if your goals are realistic given your abilities and resources.
- Don’t choose negative goals as in goals for actions you want to
avoid. Why? The habit-learning system does not learn from the experience of
avoidance. We learn from doing and generate habits when we do the action related
to an environment.
- Don’t start right away. Give yourself time to think about your goal. Set a
start date to prepare yourself and to give this day some significance.
- Choose something you enjoy doing since you are more likely to stick with it.
If you do not like jogging, do not jog! Find what works for you. Know your
motivations and ensure that they are strong. Be clear about why you are doing
this and what are the benefits. For example, you may want to quit smoking for
your wife and children because you are a role model for your children and you
want to be there for your family. The Mayo Clinic's Philip T. Hagen, MD suggests
posting your reasons for making a change. It is important to keep your eye on
the prize. For example, for someone wanting to eat in a healthful way, ask
yourself how eating a cookie will contribute to your goal.
- Write down your baby step or plan to achieve the goal. In a study of new
year's resolutions that included 5000 subjects, the 10% of participants who
had achieved their target broke their goal into smaller goals and felt a sense
of achievement when they achieved these. The more specific you are (e.g., what,
when, how much and how often) you are more likely to achieve your plan of
action. A week at a time can be a helpful time frame. Ask yourself if you are
confident that the plan is realistic and achievable, and it is something you
want to do. If not, adjust your plan.
- Start where you are and start small. If you try to change too much too
quickly, you can set yourself up for problems. Harvard Medical School suggests
selecting one choice that is a sure bet, rather than a number of choices. Once a
new healthy behaviour becomes a habit, try adding another one that works towards
the overall goal. Even small amounts of change can be helpful.
- Visualize yourself achieving your goal. You can use stories, metaphors,
pictures, and physical objects for your vision. By doing this you are tapping
into your emotions which can leverage change.
your environment - Don’t underestimate the impact of the environment.
While many people think they lack willpower, one of the biggest sources of
failure is the environment. Address the easy obstacles and brainstorm to
overcome the obstacles. For example, stock up your kitchen with healthy foods.
The world is full of temptations and the more you are exposed to them, the more
likely you are to give in. In fact, according to the Behaviour Change Institute,
healthy behaviour is abnormal and requires special care. By knowing
that making healthy changes is challenging, it allows us to help us establish
realistic expectations about what we will face in making changes. It also helps
us avoid unnecessary feelings of failure. Change behaviors by removing enablers,
triggers and barriers. Look at your environment and make changes so that the
actions you want to take are the easy choices, and the actions you do not want
to take are the difficult choices. Replace negative actions with positive
actions e.g., when you want to snack in front of the television, replace this
with a walk around the block. Take healthy actions to affect your habit-learning
system and learn new ways to do things.
Reward yourself -
Self rewards are a way to celebrate your accomplishments. Make the
reward personally meaningful. Reinforcement is a key learning principle.
Identify a good reward system and set up easy, practical and affordable goals
(e.g., get a new pair of walking shoes, some new music, a massage). Timing of
rewards - rewards do not have to be given only for reaching your goal. You can
reward yourself when you start or achieve a short-term goal. Do not delay the
reward. This allows your reward circuits to fire when you do the activity,
resulting in a connection in your brain between pleasure and the activity.
According to Dr. Roger Thompson, Associate professor, Stony Brook University,
“What fires together wires together.”
Set up public
accountability - Making your plan public will make you accountable. You
could consider emailing about your activities or charting your progress in a
blog. Other people may be inspired by you!
Be aware of negative
self-talk - We are constantly talking to ourselves and often we are not
aware of it. This negative talk can derail your goals. Stay
positive. When you recognize you are being negative, push these
negative thoughts out of your head and replace them with positive self-talk
e.g., “I can do this!” or “I will do my best!”
- Getting adequate sleep in an important healthy behaviour, and getting
fatigued can cause a relapse and leave us without the energy we need to deal
with temptations that can get us off track.
Lapses are inevitable. Get back on track when they do happen. Do not
give up. There is a tendency for people to set up their goals in all-or-nothing
terms, which presents success or failure as the only options. Change your
mindset to see setbacks as an integral part of the change process. If something
did not go as planned, problem-solve. Assess what went wrong and why and revise
your plan. Like an experiment or an adventure, you will be able to learn from
your setbacks. On the days you don't do as you planned, change
the way you think of the event - it is an opportunity to learn about what to do
in the future rather than as a reason to give up. For example, you found
that jogging in the morning may not work for you because you are not a morning
person and after work is a better time. Remember to be kind to yourself and
acknowledge that changing behaviour is challenging. Change is possible but we
must be aware that a number of factors make change hard. Being aware of these
barriers can guide you toward sustained change. Forgive yourself as you would
forgive others. Remember too that change takes time, so be patient with
yourself. Every little bit of change is a step in the right direction.
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