Dr. Joti Samra’s article for BC Medical Journal – Six-step plan for effective behavior changes

If you are like most people, you have likely made at least one new year’s resolution focused on improving your physical or emotional health. Unfortunately, we know that by July of this year 94% of us will have forgotten or failed to achieve our resolution. So, here are some effective tips that can help you make behavior changes that stick:

 

 

STEP #1: IDENTIFY YOUR GOAL

 

 

•  Pick a specific behavior to change and start with no more than one to two behaviors at a time.
•  Define in exact terms what you would like to change.

•  Ensure that your goal is measureable. To change your goal, you will have to know where you are headed, and how to determine if you are getting or have gotten there.
•  Pick an attainable goal. The goal should be something that affects your day-to-day life—something that you can achieve.
•  Ensure the goal is realistic. You may want to lose 30 pounds, but a realistic goal may be to lose 15 pounds this year and 15 pounds the following year.
•  Ensure the goal is time-limited. Set a specific period of time in which you will accomplish your goal. Behavioral change takes a series of steps, and those steps can each be accomplished over a specific period of time. As you accomplish your time-limited steps, you can reward yourself for successes.

 

 

STEP #2: IDENTIFY YOUR READINESS TO CHANGE

 
Before you begin, ask yourself questions such as, “How ready am I really?”… “Is this the right time for me to make a change?”… “What are the pros and cons of changing?”

 

 

•  Prepare to change. Gather the information and tools that you need. Anticipate setbacks.
•  Consider the benefits of the change. How can you begin to make the change in a realistic fashion?
•  Consider what would life be like if you didn’t make the change? Is the change worth it—how or why? How would the change impact your life in a positive manner?
•  Consider how the change fits in with other important life values that you hold.
•  As you start change, consider how to build upon the behavior over time. What other behaviors can you add in?
•  Remember that small change is better than no change. Get supports as you start to make the change.
•  Once the behavior change has been made, consider how to transition to a long-term maintenance plan. How can you sustain this behavior change over time?

 

 

STEP #3: IDENTIFY BARRIERS

 

 

•  Anticipate setbacks. If you have tried to make this change in the past, what got in the way of the change being successful before?
•  Problem-solve the barriers that you have encountered in the past.
•  Identify the pros of not changing the behavior (this can often help you appreciate why the change has not yet happened). Identify the cons of changing (the reasons the change may be difficult to do).
•  Establish a specific contingency plan for each of the barriers you identify.

 

 

STEP #4: IMPLEMENT CHANGE

 

 

•  Identifying the following cognitive processes of change can help increase the likelihood of behavioural change:
o  Barriers/traps: identify the common barriers you may encounter.
o  Increase knowledge: obtain the background information you may need to make the change.
o  Identify the consequences of changing and not changing—what are the potential impacts if you did or did not make the change?
o  Understand the benefits of the change—how would the change impact your life in an immediate and meaningful way?
o  Identify options—what are the various options you have for change? There are often several paths to the same end goal.
•  Identifying the following behavioral processes of change can help increase the likelihood of behavioral change:
o  Commit: make a verbal commitment to change. Let others that are close to you know about the change are making.
o  Substitute alternatives: be flexible and identify different ways you can achieve your overall goal.
o  Enlist supports: find a friend or co-worker who may also want to make the change. It can often be easier to make change when you are making the change with someone else.
o  Reward yourself: make sure that you reinforce and reward yourself for small successes.
o  Set triggers and reminders: when life gets busy and other stressors enter our lives, it can be easy to let good self-care fall behind.
•  Obtain a baseline of your behavior. Track your usual activity for a week. This can often help you to identify patterns in your day and help identify times when it would be easier to implement the change.
•  Be aware of the powerful impact that conditioning plays in activity and behavior.
•  Actively work to change habits that are not conducive to achieving your goal.
•  Approach behavioral change gradually. Make small, specific changes.
•  Make a schedule with yourself to build the activity into your day-to-day life.
•  Schedule double the time you think it would take to achieve the change.

 

 

STEP #5: REVISIT & REVISE

 

 

•  Do not get discouraged by setbacks.
•  Revise your goal as necessary.
•  Expect and visualize success.

 

 

STEP #6: REWARD YOURSELF

 

 

•  Set milestones that can help you track your progress.
•  Ensure that you schedule in regular rewards for each milestone that you achieve.

 

 

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