It is a common theme in any area of health research — lifestyle makes a big difference. From getting enough sleep and eating your veggies, to managing your stress well and staying socially connected, these factors influence our health in the long run.
As we are moving into a new year this is usually the time when most of us establish a few resolutions with the hope of making a positive change; the most popular being losing a few pounds and getting into the gym more. Did you know the average rate of “falling off the wagon” is around 60% before June (based upon my own experience I would say it is more, but who am I to argue with statistics)?
If it was as easy as doing what we know to be good for us… wouldn’t we all be doing it? The secret to change lies in the psychology of our behaviour. Here are my top five tips for lasting lifestyle change.
Be patient. Create a timeline of (at least) 12 months. Goals are great, but if they are made for the near future, they can add pressure and stress into the mix. Once change becomes stressful, the old behaviours tend to creep back in.
Start slow. It is a fact that if a new exerciser adds over three days per week of exercise from the start, they are more apt to drop out than someone who starts with two. Begin with two days a week and if you are successful at that, add another day the next month (and the next month, and the next month, and so on, and so on).
Do not try to change everything at once. Some people try to quit smoking, eat more veggies, and get more exercise all at once. That is a recipe for disaster. If changing your diet and getting more exercise is at the top of your list, pick the once you will be more successful at. Mastery is key and a great motivator to continue.
Record your progress. Research shows that when people record their changes they are more successful at making them. From recording your food, your physical activity to recording your emotions and sleep patterns, our records give us a clear picture of what is being done, what is getting in our way, and what we can do to make further change.
Celebrate your failures! Every time you “fall off your wagon” there is a chance to learn about yourself and your barriers to change. This is a great opportunity to examine what got in the way and create action plans for greater success in the future. Lapses in behaviour do not mean you cannot change; you most certainly can. The important thing is you set your goals over the year to accommodate for such “wagon accidents” and the time it will take to learn from them.
Changing our behaviour is a challenge at times, but needn’t be dramatic or stressful if done thoughtfully. The key is patience with a focus on overall health. It’s a fact that programs based upon weight loss, for example, are less successful than programs based upon health. Go slow, enjoy the process, be forgiving of yourself, and you will be closer to attaining your healthy resolutions… for life.
Kathi Cameron is a health writer and popular speaker on topics related to health promotion and realistic health behaviour change. She holds a masters degree in Exercise and Health Psychology.