Successful and lasting behavior change takes more than a willingness to adopt new habits. It is a process of learning how to integrate these behaviors into your daily lifestyle. Here are some considerations and techniques to increase your chances for success this time around:
While it is reasonable and desirable to strive for realistic improvements in our appearance, health, and attitude, it is counterproductive to hope for a total remake of who we are. Frustration breeds failure. Make sure that your resolution, whether behavioural, attitudinal or otherwise, is achievable. It helps to focus on one or two small, achievable and measurable changes at a time. Instead of saying, “I’m going to lose two kilos,” try first to succeed at cutting out excess calories and fat by eliminating desserts or substituting reduced fat salad dressings, etc. When you are comfortable with those small changes, go on to work on other more challenging ones.
See in your mind’s eye the new healthy, self-confident you! Visualise your self being in control in difficult situations at a party, after a long day at work or travelling on a business trip. Practice using your senses to imagine the benefits of the new habits and behaviours. Taste the freshness of ripe, juicy fruits on your palate. Smell the clean, odour-free breath after you’ve given up smoking. Feel the cool, refreshing perspiration drip from your body, melting the fat away as you exercise. Hear the compliments from peers and friends as they notice the difference!
Realise that many of these behaviours have been with you for some time, honed with practice over many years. It will take more than a few days to undo all that work! In general, it takes about 21 days of doing something before it begins to feel natural or comfortable and up to six to eight weeks to truly cement a new behaviour as a pattern. Anticipate and expect that minor lapses will occur; plan for how you will cope with them. Lapses unattended are more likely to lead to a relapse of old behaviours and then to a total collapse of your programme!
It is rare that any of us can “go it alone” when trying to achieve major changes in our lives or lifestyle. There are many community programmes designed to facilitate behaviour change as well as serve as an ongoing support network. Look for extra support from co-workers, family or friends that can keep you company in your efforts, help you problem solve in difficult situations and sustain your motivation through this period of time. Support from a “buddy,” someone who will go with you for that exercise session; or a “coach,” the person you can look to when you’re tempted to light up, can make the difference between whether or not you make progress in your behaviour change.
We are all motivated by rewards, extrinsic or intrinsic. In time, the feeling of a healthier you will be enough to sustain your new behaviours. But until then, it is important to reward yourself for your achievements. In doing so, try to reward yourself for the behaviour, not the goal; otherwise the interval may be too long for the reward to be of value. Choose rewards that are meaningful and consistent with your goals. In other words, when you have successfully exercised three days in a week, treat yourself to a movie rather than go out and splurge on an ice cream sundae! Or, put the money you save each week by not buying cigarettes into a jar, and buy yourself a new CD or book.
Keep in mind that any kind of change is difficult and awkward, but stay focussed on the many benefits and rewards you will reap by making this change. The following story illustrates this so well. One day a young child was cutting out pictures from a magazine and making a puzzle. The mother noticed the child had pieced together a picture of the world. Fascinated by this, she asked her child, “How did you know how to do this?” Her child looked up and simply stated, “It was easy, Mummy. On the back was a person, and once they were put together, the whole world fell into place.” So much of ourselves and our lives become richer and take on new meaning when we strive to improve our health and well-being.
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