(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of columns related to health and wellness decisions that can improve the quality of our lives and of those around us. Our thanks to colleagues at the IUB Division of Recreation Sports for sharing their expertise.)
Research into the process of changing behavior shows that for a given behavior (i.e. quitting smoking, changing diet, beginning to exercise), only 20 percent of us are honestly intending to take positive action within 30 days. This is the Preparation Stage of behavior change—we are actively preparing to take action.
Roughly 40 percent of us who need to make a change are thinking about doing so in the next six months—the Contemplation Stage. Many others may still be weighing the benefits of making a change or are just not ready at the given time—this is optimistically called the Precontemplation Stage—we are going to think about this someday, just not right now!
Is it any wonder that so many people fail to stick with their New Year’s resolutions? To increase the odds of success, ask yourself if you are ready to commit to making positive changes within the month. If the answer is an enthusiastic “Yes!” then go for it. If the answer is “No, not just yet,” then rethink the resolution (it’s not too late), and find something you are ready to act upon now.
Too often the revolving door of New Year’s resolutions and failures leaves feelings of guilt and discouragement. But once a goal is identified—whether it’s related to health, career or relationships, the following practical steps can help lead to success.
Set S.M.A.R.T. goals.
In other words, set goals that are Specific to your desired outcome. Be sure you can Measure your success objectively so you can track your progress. Keep your goals Attainable and realistic, keeping in mind everything else that you have to balance in your life. Create your own Reward system to give you encouragement along the way. And finally, be sure to give yourself a realistic Time frame for reaching your goal.
A little planning on the front end goes a long way. Your success in achieving your goal can also be enhanced by taking the following steps early in the behavioral change process.
1. Identify your current status in relation to your goal. For example, someone who has smoked two packs of cigarettes each day for 30 years and has never been able to quit may have more work ahead of them than someone who has stopped twice in the past and is now only smoking occasionally. Stopping may be a realistic goal for both, but both need to have realistic expectations about how much effort it may take.
2. Identify any potential barriers to achieving your goal. Barriers may take many different forms. For many of us, adding exercise to our already busy routine may be difficult. Some barriers may be unintentionally placed in our path by our family or friends. For instance, eating a vegetarian diet may be difficult in a meat-eating household. Identifying barriers is helpful, but don’t stop there.
3. Identify anything that makes your success more likely and take full advantage. Maybe you pass a fitness center on your way home from work. Maybe your local YMCA is offering smoking cessation classes or perhaps you have a good friend with a similar resolution.
4. Create a support system. Those who have a strong social support system in place are more likely to be successful in making behavior changes. Let others know about your resolutions so that they may support you and offer encouragement. Stating your goals to those you care about also creates some amount of accountability on your part as well.
There is also something to be said for the simple power of positive thinking. Stay positive in your thoughts, actions and attitudes. Celebrate small accomplishments. Use minor setbacks as learning opportunities. A slip here and there doesn’t make the goal unattainable. Incorporate positive “self talk” and visualization into your plan.
If you need professional assistance in creating a plan for success, consult with your physician or other health-care provider.
If you are on the Bloomington campus and would like to discuss exercise-related goals with a certified personal trainer, contact the Division of Recreational Sports at 812-855-7772.