What were your health-related New Year’s resolutions? Did you resolve to lose weight, get in shape, maybe get your blood pressure and/or cholesterol down? How’d that work out? Maybe you started with the best of intentions and did well for a few weeks, only to fall back into old patterns. Here are some strategies to get you back on track and help you meet your goals.
Assess Your Readiness to Change
Using the Stages of Change approach is one of the best-researched methods to help you change your behavior. Use it to assess your readiness to make the changes necessary to reach your goals. Readiness to change is a good predictor of likelihood of change.
Stage 1: Precontemplation
In precontemplation, you’re not even thinking about making any changes. Here you might say, “I have no desire to change” or “I don’t thinking changing this is important.” To move out of this stage, you need to self reflect and reorder your priorities.
Stage 2: Contemplation
At this point, you’re at least thinking about making a change. You might say, “I want to know more about (weight loss, exercise; fill in the blank).” You might also have doubts about your ability to make these changes. You need to get more information, talk with others who have been successful and review barriers and obstacles, which we’ll talk about later.
Stage 3: Preparation
When you’re mentally ready to make changes, it’s time to start planning, scheduling and setting SMARTT goals (see below).
Stage 4: Action
You’re now doing it. Your statements are now in the form of, “I am doing…” Your tasks are to do things that will keep you going. These include finding inspiration, preparing for obstacles, establishing accountability and a reward system (see below).
Stage 5: Maintenance
You’ve been doing what you’re doing long enough to have made it a part of your life. It takes 30—90 days to establish a new habit. Even then, set-backs are possible. Your statement here is, “I am doing (fill in the blank) to keep going and maintain my progress.” Your tasks include following role models, keeping the accountability and reward system going, as well as finding creative ways to make keep it interesting.
For the goal-setting process to be most effective, goals should meet the SMARTT criteria. SMARTT is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely and Tangible. Here’s what I’m talking about.
Specific: The more specific you make your goal, the better. Rather than say, “I’m going to get more exercise,” say, “I will do 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise on five out of seven days.”
Also, answer the following questions about your goal:
- What do you want to accomplish? Write it down.
- Who, beside yourself, is involved (in this)? If you live with others and you’re going to change your eating habits, the people with whom you live are involved.
- Where will you work on your goals? Examples include the gym, your kitchen and the break room at work.
- When will this process begin and end? We will address time frames below.
- Why are you doing this? Spend some time listing your motivations. The more they come from within you, as opposed to those from others—for example, “My doctor wants me to”—the better.
Measurable: Set your goals in a way that can be measured. If weight loss is the goal, how many pounds. (For most people, a half-pound to a pound a week is desirable. The more gradually it’s lost, the less chance you’ll put it back on.
Attainable: This has to do with the goal itself. (Going back to the example of weight loss,) A goal of 20 pounds in a month is unattainable (in any healthy sense). You might be able to lose 5 pounds in a week but most of it will be water and protein, not fat.
Realistic: This has more to do with you, others involved and circumstances. If you set a goal of working out two hours a day and you work full time, serve on two boards, have a spouse and kids and need eight hours sleep a night, that’s an unrealistic goal.
Timely: Goals should be short-, intermediate- and long-term. Short term can be from a day to a week. The number of calories consumed; servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and minutes spent meditating are examples of daily goals. Workouts per week or month are examples of intermediate goals. Long-term time frames are 60 to 90 days or years in length. Losing 50 pounds will take a year. Keeping it off will take a lifetime.
Tangible: Your goal is real. You know it by your senses.
- What does it look like? A former client said it looked like the jeans she wore at her ideal weight. She duct-taped them to her fridge door.
- What does it sound like? A workshop participant said, “It sounds like the Boss. I like to listen to Springsteen when I work out.”
- What does it taste like? Another participant said, “It tastes like water. One of my goals is to drink water instead of soda.”
- What does it smell like? “It smells like the woods,” said a participant who likes to hike in the woods.
- What does it feel like? “It feels like sweat,” said a participant who had learned to enjoy her workouts.
At this point, I advise revising your goals based on how they fit in the SMARTT framework.
Anticipate and Overcome Obstacles
What obstacles did you encounter on the way to reaching your goals in the past? Write them down. What worked or didn’t work? The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Stick with what you know works. What are some new potential obstacles? Brainstorm some ideas for overcoming old and new obstacles.
Research shows having one or more persons to whom you’re accountable is critical. Who will you choose? Obviously, it needs to be someone you not only trust, but someone who fully supports your goals. A spouse who resents new food choices or a coworker who tells you to skip your workout and go to happy hour are not good choices. Make yourself accountable for meeting all your short-, intermediate- and long-term goals.
The value of rewarding yourself for meeting short-, intermediate- and long-term goals is supported by research. Punishing yourself is not. Rewards need to support your goal, not undermine them. Buying yourself a song on iTunes does. Stopping at the bakery on the way home doesn’t. Involve the person(s) to whom (your) you’re accountable in your reward plan. A former client went halves on a $30 iTunes card with his wife. If he trained with me 12 times in a month, he got the card. If he didn’t, his wife got it.
Making permanent changes in health behavior isn’t easy but it’s doable. There are no quick and easy fixes. It takes commitment, effort and strategy. I hope these tools will help you get on course and stay on course. As always, if I can help you with any of this, please contact me.
David Wheeler, MA, MS is Wellness & Health Recovery Coordinator at Premier Health & Fitness Center. He is an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist. David provides fitness training and health coaching for those contending with health challenges and for healthy adults who want to stay that way. He can be reached at email@example.com or 850-431-4835.