Identifying a New Year Resolution may be easy, but what about maintaining the new behavior after the initial excitement wears off?
Some people want to start exercising more, eat healthy or pick up a new hobby.
But changing one’s lifestyle can be difficult without a plan.
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Most Americans know the fundamentals of good health. Exercise, proper diet, enough sleep, regular check-ups, and no smoking or excessive alcohol. Yet, despite this knowledge, changing existing behaviors can be difficult. Look no further than the New Year’s Resolution, with its 9% success rate. Generally, negative motivations are inadequate to affect change. (“I need to quit smoking because my spouse hates it.”) Motivation needs to come from within. (“I want to quit smoking so I see my grandchildren graduate.”)
Goals must be specific, measurable, realistic, and time-related. In other words, “I am going to exercise more” is not enough. You need to set a more defined goal, such as, “I am going to walk 30 minutes a day, five days a week.” Permanent Change is Evolutionary. As a rule, individuals travel through stages on their way to permanent change. These stages can’t rush or skip. Phase one: Precontemplation. Through lack of knowledge or because of past failures, you are not thinking about any change. Phase two: Contemplation. You are considering change, but aren’t yet committed to it. To help move through this phase, it may be useful to write out the pros and cons of changing your behavior. Examine the barriers to change. Not enough time to exercise? How could you create that time? Phase three: Preparation.
You’re at the point of believing change is necessary and you can succeed. When making plans, it’s critical to begin anticipating potential obstacles. How will you address temptations that test your resolve? How will you decline a colleague’s lunch invitation to that greasy spoon restaurant? Phase four: Taking action. This is the start of change. Practice your alternative strategies to avoid temptation. Remind yourself daily of your motivation; write it down if necessary. Get support from family and friends. Phase five: Maintenance. You’ve been faithful to your new behavior. Now it’s time to prevent relapse and integrate this change into your life. Remember, this process is not a straight line. You may fail, even , but don’t let failure discourage you. Reflect on why you failed and apply that knowledge to your efforts going forward.