Changing A Behavior Is Easy. Making it Stick? Not So Much.
How long is it from the time you download a phone app to motivate you to track your calories, steps, carbs or whatever it is you feel you need help in controlling before you’re no longer using it? Three months? Six months? Five weeks? Two days? I’ve downloaded several apps that have helped me drink more water or deliver positive affirmations to get me through a rough spot but after a few months I stop using them.
The company I work for has made an investment to provide employees with a wellness web site where we can track nearly everything we do. We get points for healthy behaviors and a cash payout at the end of the year if we acquire enough. You’d think everyone would sign up, but the participation rate is about 10 percent.
People lose weight and gain it back, spend money on gym membership and not go, decide to give up fast food, admit how much better they feel without it, and then end up back at McDonalds.
This question of how to stay motivated, and to me even more important – how to keep other people motivated – is perplexing. Is this back and forth, stop and start, inspired then uninspired cycle that most of us seem to go through the trade off for having a brain that is complex enough to be able to make choices? Certainly it does have to do with our ability as humans to participate in a decision making process above and beyond basic instinct.
Why And How People Change Health Behaviors
Several years ago the book “Why and How People Change Health Behaviors” attempted to reveal the secrets to successful behavior change. The book is written by Joseph Leutzinger, PhD and John Harris, MEd, who decided to throw off their ‘scientific research hats’ and put on their ‘curious but not judgmental’ hats to seek out individuals who had been successful at changing one or more behaviors. The book is a collection of stories gleaned from those interviews.
Leutzinger and Harris found there were some recurring themes in the stories they heard. Here’s what the interviewees told them:
- Do what works for you
- Be well informed about the change you are making
- Be ready – don’t go in unprepared or lacking confidence
- Set SMART goals
- Make a total commitment
- Take it one day at a time
- Plan ahead for scenarios that you find threatening
- Control your environment
- Take small steps
- Seek support from others
- Realize that compliments from others are motivating
- Don’t let a short term relapse negatively impact your potential for long term success
- Know that one successful change leads to another
- Reward yourself for success
That’s a good list with plenty of suggestions to help with adherence. But, if I had to pick the one most critical to successful behavior change it would be “Don’t let a short term relapse negatively impact your potential for long term success.”
This darn brain of ours allows us to make choices. Sometimes they’re good choices, sometimes not so much. Both can gain momentum. Once we get started practicing a ‘good’ behavior – for example taking a thirty minute walk before work four days a week – we get in the pattern of doing that. It feels easy to do and we enjoy the aftereffects of knowing that we’ve kept our commitment and met our goal.
Then the day comes when we decide to go for a couple of birthday drinks with friends after work. The following day we don’t feel like getting up early to walk so we stay in bed. The next day it’s raining. We know there are rainy day options; at home work out DVDs or the stationary bike in the spare bedroom, but we sleep in instead. Before you know it, two weeks have passed since our last early morning workout that made us feel good all day long.
Take The Smallest Possible Step Forward
I read an interesting blog post yesterday on Daily Blog Tips about procrastination. The author, Daniel Scocco, was working on a software development project that was overwhelming to him. It wasn’t that he had no interest in working on the project. Just the opposite was true, but because of very specific guidelines he had to follow he was having trouble getting started. Day after day he pushed the project around his desk but couldn’t bring himself to tackle it.
After a couple weeks of this he decided he would try a new strategy. He would take one small step. He would type the title of the project on a blank page. That was all. After he typed the words of the project into the word processor, ideas started to flow and within a couple of hours he had written over 1,000 words. Daniel says, “Taking that first step is the hardest part for most projects and things, so if you are procrastinating with something lately, simply take the smallest possible step forward, and the rest should start flowing more easily.”
The Law Of Motion
The difficulty we have getting started again once we’ve stopped is the basic law of motion. The famous scientist Sir Isaac Newton said, “A body in motion tends to stay in motion, a body at rest tends to stay at rest.” It may take a little more effort to get the resting body back in motion, but it can be done.
Are you letting a short term relapse negatively impact your potential for long term success? What is the smallest possible step you can take to initiate the law of motion? Take that step today!
If you enjoyed this post you might also like:
- It’s Time To Tell Your Inner Critic To Put A Sock In It
- Tell-Tale Signs That Your Obsession With Tracking Has Gone One App Too Far
- If You Feel You Can’t Possibly Do More, You Might As Well Jump