By the time you read this column, it is highly likely that any New Year’s resolutions you may have set have failed. This isn’t because of a lack of willpower or some moral flaw. Numerous research studies find that up to 80% of resolutions fail with most people abandoning their resolutions by February.
Part of the reason resolutions fail is because changing our behavior is extremely hard. Whether it is eating a healthier diet, exercising more, or committing to flossing our teeth every night, adopting these new behaviors means starting a new habit while simultaneously stopping our previous behaviors. For example, if I decide to start exercising every evening instead of watching television, I must engage in brand new exercise activities while simultaneously breaking my habit of watching my favorite shows. This change is complex, complicated, and requires a great deal of thought and intention, which is why most behavior change fails.
How can you create new health behaviors that are longer lasting? First, planning is key. Research shows that developing action plans that detail the specific steps required to change behavior increases the likelihood that new behaviors will become habits.
Identify your overarching goal: something like wanting to eat healthier or walk more. Then, create a SMART goal. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and have a Timeframe. For example, a SMART goal for eating healthier might be to eat one serving of vegetables at every meal five days a week. This goal is SMART because it is specific (focused on vegetables), measurable (one serving), attainable (this is a small tweak to a diet that is fairly easy to achieve), realistic (because the change isn’t too out of the ordinary), and there is a timeframe (five days a week).
To create an action plan, focus on the “what, where, when, who, and why” necessary to achieve your goal. Research finds that people who write out these specific details of how they will accomplish their new behavior makes them more likely to achieve their goals. Following the healthier eating goal, an action plan might look like this:
Now, it often is the case that what we need to do to achieve our goals is not all that enjoyable. In the example above of preparing meals to eat healthier, this may be more challenging for people who do not enjoy cooking.
To help get through activities that are good for us, but maybe not that enjoyable, we can leverage the trick of “temptation bundling” to help achieve our goals. Temptation bundling refers to doing something that we should do with something we like to do or something we hate doing with something we love doing. Examples include getting on the treadmill while watching our favorite television show or cleaning the house while listening to music. Pairing cooking while talking on the phone is temptation bundling, that is, doing a potentially less pleasurable task while having a more enjoyable conversation with a friend.
Behavior change is hard, but it’s never too late to take steps to improve your health. Setting specific goals, creating action plans, and temptation bundling can help to create better habits to improve health.
Take advantage of CJE’s resources to improve your mental and physical health—and help you stick to your goals! Go to cje.net/falls and cje.net/cyberclub for exercise classes and visit cje.net/counseling for mental health counseling.
Take advantage of all of CJE’s resources to improve your mental and physical health and prevent falls! Go to cje.net/falls and cje.net/cyberclub for exercise classes and visit cje.net/counseling for mental health counseling.