This is the third and final post in a series about setting better resolutions. Start at the beginning here.
You’ve determined what’s important to you – those outcomes you’d most like to achieve in the year ahead – and you’ve created a short list of behaviors that can help move you toward those outcomes. Now it’s time to put the wheels in motion and start creating the behavior change you’ll need to do just that. Here are four keys to behavior change that will keep you on the path to success in 2016.
Adherence Versus Outcomes
Probably the most important tip I can give you is to be sure that your resolutions are adherence-based rather than outcome-based. An adherence-based goal is one that can be measured or counted every day, while an outcome-based goal is normally something more long term that is, in fact, made up of several or many adherence-based goals. Here’s an example:
Say you’ve decided that losing 30 pounds this year is one of your top goals. That’s an outcome. In order to do that, you’ll need to practice a variety of behaviors geared toward weight loss every single day. Those daily habits are your adherence-based goals. One such goal may be to eat less packaged and processed food. In order to turn that behavior into a good, measurable goal, you need to quantify it, maybe something like, “I will eat zero or one servings of processed/packaged foods every day.” That’s easy to measure – at the end of each day, you count your servings of processed and packaged foods and see whether you succeeded. You can use this test for any type of behavioral goal you set – exercise; unnecessary expenditures; time spent watching TV; time spent with family – you get the idea. If it’s something you can evaluate or measure every day, or nearly every day, then you’ve likely met this criteria.
Create a Supportive Environment
Another key to successful behavior change is arranging the things under your control in a way that boosts your chances for success. If you’re trying to eat less packaged and processed food, then removing all the packaged and processed food from your house would be a good first step. The best way to approach this is to think about the things that trip you up the most. Start by listing all of the potential obstacles that might keep you from changing your habits, and then work backward on each one. Try to determine if there’s anything you can do to eliminate or diminish the influence of those obstacles. Doing this bit of leg work in the beginning can make the whole change process much, much easier.
Create a Supportive Network
This is probably the most powerful mental/emotional tool in your behavior change arsenal. Having and surrounding yourself with a network of supportive people raises your chance for success tremendously. Spending time with people who are encouraging your positive new behaviors and discouraging your detrimental old behaviors is like putting your effort on turbo-boost. Conversely, spending time with people who tempt you back into those old behaviors can feel like running through quicksand: you have to work twice as hard, and you may never get there at all. This can be tough – it may mean spending less time with a few of your friends, but it’s an important part of the change process.
Most people have ditched their New Year’s resolutions by sometime in mid-February. This is probably because they didn’t follow my first tip above, and they set goals that were too broad, or long-term, or just plain unrealistic. But it could also be because this practice of setting goals just once during the whole year is a system inherently designed to fail. Life circumstances can change dramatically and several times over the course of a year and you may change your mind about what’s really important to you. For this reason, it’s critical that you repeat these goal-setting steps at regular intervals throughout the year. Check in with yourself at the end of each month to see not only whether your priorities have changed, but whether the resolutions you set are in fact moving you in the right direction. If they aren’t, then either retool them to make them more effective or toss them out and see what else you can try.
Lifestyle change doesn’t happen in one sweeping motion. There are a lot of stops and starts. It is as much a learning process as it is a change process, but if you can approach is as a scientist – carefully evaluating what’s working and what isn’t – the process does go a bit faster.
Everything I’ve written about today is covered in much greater detail in my book, Reboot Your Body. While it’s an essential companion for those who want to lose a significant amount of weight, I’ve also had many people tell me that it’s helped them change other areas of their life. If you truly want to make big changes this year, give it a read and work through the exercises.
I hope this three-part guide has been helpful, and I wish each and every one of you a healthy, happy year. May you realize your dreams and aspirations.