10 Steps to Lasting Change
You may think you know how this is going to end. On December 31, you resolve to do tons of exercise. The first week of January, you show up at your new gym and there's a line for every elliptical trainer. Four weeks later, waiting for a machine is not an issue. But by then it doesn't matter--you're already perusing the fine print of the club's contract for an easy exit.
"On New Year's eve, people have lots of enthusiasm for making resolutions," says Carlo C. DiClemente, Ph.D., chairman of the department of psychology at the University of Maryland, and co-author of Changing for Good. "Then life happens, they see how hard it is to fit changes in. They haven't thought out how to remain onboard over the long haul."
A better tack: Stop expecting change to happen overnight. Instead, resolve to commit time and energy to making a fresh start. "It's difficult to build new habits or tear down old ones," says DiClemente. "That's why you need to spend up to a month preparing. Then it might take a few months of doing something new for that to feel right."
To help you get there from here, we've provided 10 expert strategies to inspire you and keep you going.
1 Face the Truth "Get all the information you can about where you are," says Jim Loehr, Ed.D., a performance coach in Orlando, Fla., and co-author of The Power of Full Engagement. "What is your cholesterol? Your blood pressure?" Look at what you're doing and why you're doing it, such as eating too many sweets in response to stress. "Habits don't continue unless they serve some kind of functional purpose," Loehr says. "Then [assess] the risks and connect the dots. Do you enjoy TV so much that you don't mind forgoing exercise and living without the extra energy--and extra years--it adds to your life?"
2 Write a New Story We all tell ourselves stories that rationalize why we are the way we are. "You might say, 'Well, my mom was always too heavy--it runs in the family,'" says Loehr. But if you want to change, you need to figure out a new narrative. Looking deep into your value system, write down the story of whom you hope to be. For motivation, read the story at least once a day.
3 Get Ready for 'Psychic Surgery' The expression, coined by James O. Prochaska, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Rhode Island, evokes the stress that can accompany change. Becoming a non-drinker, for instance, can be as disruptive psychologically as a coronary bypass operation is physically. If you take a break from alcohol or other potentially harmful habits, you may need to find new activities for your evening hours and seek support from those around you. While the changes are theoretically improvements, they're at odds with your familiar way of living and may initially make you feel uncomfortable.
4 Set Realistic Goals "When people are forming a plan, they tend to paint a rosy picture," says Ian R. Newby-Clark, Ph.D,i assistant professor of psychology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. In his research, Newby-Clark found that most people who were already exercising overestimated their capacity to increase their load within a month. "Those who underachieved felt bad about themselves," he says. The alternative is to set yourself up for success by "making a reasonable commitment," says June Lay, a certified lifestyle counselor in New York City. "Say you know you can easily walk three times a week for 20 minutes. Do this until it feels like little effort, then increase your time to 30 minutes, and so on. The more successful we are, the more our motivation grows."
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