Most of us think about our own health and wellbeing every day. We think about doing some exercise, eating healthier foods, quitting smoking, losing some weight, getting to bed early or creating the ideal work life balance.
Changing our daily habits and routines however, can be difficult. So what makes the difference?
Decide to change
The most important part of changing a behaviour is making the decision to do so.
Most people when deciding to change however, experience inner conflict between wanting to change and staying the same. This is a very normal part of the behaviour change process as change requires effort; staying the same, is easy and comfortable.
So what can you do?
To help you make the decision that is right for you, on a piece of paper fill out your reasons for NOT wanting to change (i.e. you want to stay the same), versus your reasons TO change.
Try and be as honest as possible when thinking about your reasons for and against change, as this can help clarify the decision for you.
Once you have recorded all your reasons for and against change, highlight the reasons that are important to you. By doing so, it will help to increase your awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of changing, or staying the same.
If you have decided to make the change, focus on what you will gain to help motivate you, and to help you stay on track.
Remember, the commitment to change has to come from you. Make the commitment because YOU want to, not because someone else has asked you to.
Your commitment and the choices you make every day are the keys to your success.
Take action and plan, by setting some specific goals
Once you are clear about what you wish to change, set some goals that are specific, realistic and achievable for you.
Think about what you wish to achieve and when. Think about what small steps you can take today and every day to increase your exercise, to help you eat better, to help you stop smoking. Will you go for a 30 minute walk? Will you choose fruit over a chocolate bar? Will you start to cut down on your afternoon cigarettes? Think and record the action you plan to take.
Remember to set goals that are reasonable (i.e. they are not competing with current demands), attainable (start with small steps) and easy to measure (how will you know that you have achieved what you set out to?).
Not sure you can change? Feeling overwhelmed?
This too, is a normal part of the behaviour change process.
Rather than focusing on the end result, practice a little mindfulness by focusing on the present moment. Take it one day at a time or one step at a time. If a 30 minute walk overwhelms you, start with 10 or 15 minutes and build from there. If the thought of never having a cigarette again overcomes you, tell yourself that you are only quitting for one day or half a day, or for a few hours and build from there. If cooking a healthy meal after a difficult day at work feels burdensome, think about planning and preparing your meals in advance.
You may also wish to think back to a time where you did make some change. Maybe you had lost some weight, or quit smoking for a time, or did some exercise every second day. Think about that time and what helped you achieve. Remember, that … “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” By Nelson Mandela.
Upon reflecting, you may remember that initially making and sustaining the change was difficult. Maybe you thought you couldn’t do it or succeed, but with perseverance and repetition, you were able to successfully change your behaviour.
Change is possible. It requires regular steps every day towards a larger goal, and this takes time.
Afraid of failing?
Most people make numerous attempts to change. This is part of the behaviour change process and doesn’t mean you have failed.
Whilst you may feel that returning to your former behaviour is not what you had hoped for, it is important to learn from the experience and start again. Think about what led you back and what you could do differently next time.
Reframe ‘failure’ as a learning opportunity…
Seek some support from your family and friends. You may wish to exercise with a friend, ask one of your loved ones or colleagues to be your quit smoking buddy or encourage your teenage kids to cook a healthy meal with you. If you’re feeling stuck, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
There are a number of professional services that can help – speak to your doctor for further information and support.
Remember that there are many people who have successfully changed their behaviour and have improved their health and wellbeing – with the right information and support, you can too.