Mind & Body

10 Steps to Lasting Change

Don't abandon your New Year's resolutions. Instead, resolve to commit time and energy to making a fresh start.

10 Steps to Lasting Change
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5 Make Change in a Positive Way "When intentions are framed negatively--'I won't overeat' or 'I will not get angry'--they rapidly deplete our limited stores of will and discipline," says Loehr. It's more effective to commit to eating more whole grains or starting a meditation program. "People are more willing to do something they know is right rather than give up something they know is wrong," says Alan Marlatt, PhlD., director of the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington in Seattle. Your goal should be to replace a less healthy routine with a better one.

6 Set a Date By picking a time to begin a new eating plan or stop smoking, you allow yourself a chance to prepare but also give yourself a deadline. "You can't wait too long to begin, or you'll lose your motivation," says DiClemente. For most people, announcing your new plan of action to friends and family is helpful. "Public commitments are more powerful than private pledges. You risk embarrassing yourself if you fail, but you also enlist the sympathy of others and allow them to understand the changes in your behavior."

7 Put Change at the Top of Your List "It's crucial to make the process one of your highest priorities," says DiClemente. If you're trying to become a healthier eater, for example, you may have to pass on the Friday night fish fries your husband loves. Your healthy diet is more important than the risk of temporarily displeasing your spouse. At the same time, recognize your limitations. If your life is dominated by another change--say, you just started school--this may not be the best time to quit smoking. Experts advise sticking to just one or two changes in behavior. A great second choice is to work out more. "Exercise creates a good synergy with other healthy changes you want to make," says DiClemente. "It seems to alter you physiologically so that you feel better mentally."

8 Build in Feedback "Hold yourself accountable at the end of the day," says Loehr. Keeping a food diary is one of the best predictors of success in changing eating habits. Since people tend to delude themselves about their behavior ("What chocolate bar?"), a written record keeps you honest and helps you measure your progress.

9 Reward Yourself Reinforce your new behavior by doing something you enjoy, such as buying flowers or getting a massage. Just make sure the reward comes after you've accomplished what you intended. (It's just like letting your kids watch TV only when their homework is done.) Ultimately, external rewards will be unnecessary, says Bess H. Marcus, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University Medical School in Providence, R.I. "Over time, it is the more intrinsic rewards that take over: feeling proud of yourself, knowing that you can make a change and stick with it."

10 Regroup, Don't Retreat "Once you start slipping, it's easy to simply stop trying," says DiClemente. "But it's the plan that's flawed, not your goal. When you're too busy to exercise after work, you've got to find another way." Make contingency plans: If you can't power walk because it's raining, use the stairs at your home or office. If you're spending time in fast-food-friendly airports, carry healthy snacks with you. These options will become a part of your routine. "It just becomes part of who you are and something that feels natural, like brushing your teeth or putting on your seat belt," says Marcus.