Are you one of the thousands of people every year, making resolutions to improve your health and wellbeing?
Commitments are made to lose weight, get fit, eat healthy, have more work-life balance and stress less, particularly as the New Year ticks over. Yet for many, sticking to their resolutions rarely lasts longer than a week or two, and the desired outcomes remain elusive.
There are strategies that make it more likely that you’ll achieve your resolutions such as:
- Targeting behaviours that you have a better chance at changing;
- Setting effective goals;
- Ensuring that you have the knowledge and skills that you need to make change;
- Anticipating and planning for the times when maintaining your changes will be hard, or when you lapse;
- Making, and then sticking to an action plan.
So, here is a basic yet effective process that you can use to identify which behaviours you’ll be able to change, and to put the planning and preparation in place to give you the best chance of succeeding in your quest to improve your health and wellbeing.
8 Steps to Improve Your Health and Wellbeing
- Map out all the behaviours you could change to reach your desired end-point.
For example for someone who is overweight due to lifestyle factors, a resolution to “achieve a healthy weight” is likely to require healthy eating behaviours such as:
- “eat less junk food”;
- “eat more healthy foods”;
- “only eat at the table”;
- “don’t buy foods that I overeat”;
- “clear unhealthy foods out of my cupboard”;
- “learn to cook healthy, easy and quick meals”;
- “learn to read nutrition labels”;
- “prepare my food at home”;
- “stop binge eating”;
- “be more active”.
Brainstorm and generate as many ideas as possible.
- Identify (highlight) those behaviours that are (or could be) in your control, versus those where your success would rely on the collaboration of others.
For example, the main grocery shopper and cook in your family will obviously have a great deal of control over food selection and diet, compared to those who don’t.
- Prioritise your list
When prioritising, consider only those behaviours where you have personal control or where you are able to access solid support:
- how much impact the behaviour will have on achieving your desired end-point;
- how easy the behaviour will be for you to do and maintain over time;
- whether changing that behaviour will help you to change other behaviours;
- whether you will be able to tell when you are “doing it right” or not;
- whether these behaviours can be measured.
- Refine your list
- Identify the behaviours for which you have the skills, knowledge or physical ability to carry out the behaviours, and those for which you don’t. Where you don’t have the capacity, consider what you could do to increase it – these are enabling behaviours. Rule out any where you either don’t have and won’t be able to build your ability.
- Add any identified enabling goals to your priorities and continue the process.
- Consider whether you have the time, money or access to carry out the behaviour or its enablers – rule out those that you cannot achieve.
- Consider whether or not you are really motivated to carry out each behaviour, if you are not then rule it out (or leave it until later).
- Choose where to start and set your goals for these behaviours
Of those remaining choose the top one or two target behaviours on which to focus your efforts at the beginning and develop these into clear, specific goals for your behaviour. For example: “I’m going to eat at least 5 serves of vegetables each day”. (For more information see my article on the principles of goal-setting.)
You are likely to find more success in making smaller, incremental changes than by trying to changing everything at once. Initial successes can be built upon later as target behaviours become more habitual. Setting and reaching these behavioural goals (as opposed to the end-goals) helps us to stay motivated over time. In achieving consistency with these you can also be confident that you are having a positive impact on your health.
Be aware – setting rigid goals makes it more likely that you will fall off the wagon. If you are one of those people who have trouble starting back up again you may be better off setting goals that take unto consideration that lapses are almost inevitable.
Identify the challenges or barriers that you will face in making each of your desired behaviours, and work out how you can prevent these or limit their impact.
Plan for lapses to occur! It is likely that they will, you are only human after all. Plan for how you will get yourself back on track afterwards.
- Choose your rewards or incentives
Rewards and incentives are particularly useful motivators when the behaviours that you are wanting to introduce are not intrinsically rewarding.
In general, reward yourself for consistency in doing the desirable behaviours. This means that you are reinforcing yourself, and keeping yourself motivated, even if it takes you longer than anticipated to reach your goals.
Also, it may sound obvious but make sure that your rewards don’t undermine your efforts. Try and choose rewards that won’t impact on your goals.
- Get prepared
With some behaviours, such as healthy eating, prior preparation (such as batch cooking and freezing meals) can dramatically reduce the risk of “falling off the wagon” when day-to-day life disrupts our ideal routines (such as when we are too exhausted to cook).
Write a list of what you can do, and when you plan to do it, in order to be ready to implement your plan. Pre-prepare where you can so that you have everything that you need on hand.
If changing these behaviours was an easy process you’d probably have done it long ago.
Don’t be discouraged if your end-goals are slow to achieve. Even if you only make one small change a day, in a year you will have done 365 more things to support your health – that is a huge achievement!
If you want more support to improve your health and wellbeing and achieve your goals, need more knowledge and skills, or help in maintaining your motivation, then consider making an appointment. I work with people with chronic health conditions, including weight problems to help them achieve lasting improvements in their health behaviours.
Good luck with building a healthier you!
Author: Kelly Gall, BSc (Hons), M Psych (Health), M Clin Psych, MAPS, MCHP.
Kelly Gall is a Health Psychologist and Clinical Psychologist, who is passionate about helping her clients to become healthy inside and out. Kelly develops tailored, holistic and evidence-based treatment plans that incorporate psychological, physical and social strategies aimed at empowering her clients to achieve relief from psychological symptoms and improve their health and effectiveness. Find out more on her website, Healthy Inside and Out.
To make an appointment with Health Psychologist/Clinical Psychologist Kelly Gall, please call (07) 3067 9129 or you can book online today.
Are you a health professional looking for references on Health Behaviour Change? The advice in this article was based on principles discussed in the following ebook which is available online, and which is supported by academic research. The book provides a framework to build health interventions that builds on the strengths of various models and approaches that have been utilised before. It is, in a sense, transtheoretical, and offers those in health promotion roles with a comprehensive resource to guide program development.
- Michie, S. F., Atkins, L., & West, R. (2015). “The behaviour change wheel: a guide to designing interventions”.