Your Health

Ideas for making behavioral changes stick in the new year


Courtesy of Reena Vokoun
Establishing attainable goals – like eating more fruit in the morning – taking action every day, using positive reinforcement and sticking with a plan are key to maintaining New Year’s resolutions.

The start of a new year and a new decade means many of us are focused on making resolutions and positive changes in our lives. And while we may have the best of intentions, why is it that so many of us fall short and end up giving up on our goals?

According to U.S. News and World Report, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail. While this can sound disheartening, there is hope. Success in keeping and reaching New Year’s resolutions often lies within the simplicity of the goals and the behaviors that accompany them.

Following are four ideas for making behavioral changes stick in the new year. These ideas are based on a behavioral research model conducted by B.J. Fogg, Ph.D., a research associate at Stanford University, which I studied when obtaining my certification in behavior change coaching.

Start with simple, attainable goals

Sometimes the biggest barrier in making changes stick is that we set unrealistic goals or too many goals. While it’s good to want to challenge and better ourselves, it’s best to take small steps that can lead to bigger goals and changes over time. Try setting up to three goals at a time and keep them simple. For example, if one of your goals is to increase your intake of fruit to two to three servings per day, try eating just one piece or serving each morning for or with your breakfast. It could be a banana, apple or orange. These are singular pieces of fruit that you can just grab and go first thing in the morning and don’t necessarily involve cutting, peeling or serving in a bowl. Your chances of sticking to this behavior each day are greater because you’ve kept it simple and attainable.

Take actions toward your goals every day

Once you’ve set a few key goals, it’s important to take actions toward those goals every single day. In going back to the fruit example, while eating a banana one morning is a great first step, you have to take this action every day before it becomes a part of your daily routine so that it can stick over time and you can eventually increase the number of servings from one to two or three. Therefore, make a strong effort to eat that banana or another piece of fruit every day and remind yourself that these actions are the steps that will lead you to your overall goal.

Positively reinforce actions each day

If you want your behaviors to stick, you have to positively reinforce them and in essence become your own cheerleader. Those of us who have kids know we often need to positively reinforce their good behaviors, and even as adults, we need to do this for ourselves as well. So don’t be afraid to tell yourself that you did a great job in eating that piece of fruit and even give yourself a pat on the back. It might sound silly, but you’ll feel a sense of success and hope, and it will motivate you to take the same action again tomorrow. And once you take that action the next day and subsequent days after that, remember to positively reinforce those actions again and again and again.

Keep going until change becomes habit

According to a study by the European Journal of Psychology, it takes approximately 66 days for a change to become an automatic habit. Therefore, it’s critical to repeat the steps above for at least two months and ideally 66 days for this to happen.

If you keep your goals simple and attainable, take actions every day, positively reinforce those actions each day and continue with this process for over two months, you have a really great chance to make these behavioral changes a regular part of your daily lifestyle. Once you’ve mastered this goal and process, you can move on to your next goal and over time, you’ll be making really significant changes to enhance or improve your well-being and life. And at that point, you can hopefully become part of the 20% of New Year’s resolutions that don’t fail, and perhaps even help turn that statistic on its head in the future.

Reena Vokoun is founder and CEO of the Los Altos-based Passion Fit, a health, wellness and fitness lifestyle company. For a class schedule and more information, visit passionfit.com.

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