(If only it were that simple)
So what does one do to ensure lifestyle changes are changes for life? First and foremost, you must be ready. The desire to change may be there, but the dedication to the work may not. Once you have established your readiness, consider the following steps to successful behaviour change. Each step is as important as the next and will increase your chances of successful, life long change.
Get clear about what you want and why you want it. For example, if you are externally motivated to loose weight by your health practitioner, you may be less successful than if you were motivated by your own desire to enhance your health.
Take a snapshot of where you are now. It is easier to assess change if you understand where you currently stand. This may include considerations such as present health status, eating behaviours, daily physical activity and the like. Be aware of your attitudes and beliefs about change. If you have failed in the past and do not believe you will be successful in the future this will have a negative effect on your success.
Identify your potential barriers to change. Life always gets in the way of our best intentions. Consider the barriers of your past that got in the way of your desired behaviour change. How could you plan to overcome them in the future?
Create a plan of action. This plan may include a statement of purpose and definition of how and what you will do to establish and adhere to your changed behaviour. Be specific, be able to measure your success, be sure it is attainable and realistic; and provide a timeline.
Involve others. Social support is one of the most influential factors in the success of behaviour change. Change with a buddy!
Gather information. It is important to understand what and how to do something properly. For example, those that begin an exercise program consider proper footwear and exercise progressions to remain injury free.
Go slow and change one thing at a time. It is easy to loose one’s head in the excitement of change and want to change everything at once. To ensure success, choose one lifestyle change at a time and focus on it for at least six months before making another change.
Record! Keeping track of your change is a useful tool and one that has a positive influence on life long behaviour change.
Enjoy the process. If you are sacrificing things in the name of health and it is leaving you angry and bitter, re-evaluate to make it more user-friendly and enjoyable. You must enjoy what you do to make it stick.
Don’t be afraid to fail. It may take several tries before change takes hold. If you fall into old behaviours, jump right back into the change process as soon as possible. Be kind and patient with yourself. We all have momentary lapses in behaviour.
Remember, change takes time, patience and a dedication to a new way to being. Go slow, be easy on yourself and don’t forget to celebrate those little changes you make everyday in the name of health and well-being.
Kathi Cameron is the co-author of “Leading to Life Long Exercise”. She holds a masters degree in Exercise Psychology and counsels on behaviour change as it relates to the promotion of health.