Motivating Lifestyle Change

April 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Posted in Health | Leave a comment
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By Sandy O’Keefe
Program Manager, Chronic Disease Education

Rock climbing. Photo Credit: Bryan Wintersteen

Question: How many Diabetes educators does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: One, but the light bulb really has to want to change.

How many times have you vowed to lose weight or start running only to have it fall to the wayside a few days later? You may blame it on lack of willpower, not having enough time, etc., but it’s time to give yourself a break; it happens to many of us! However, if you fine tune action plan a bit, you can set yourself up for success.

First you need to figure out what motivates you to make changes in your life. This needs to be a powerful motivator— saying something like “I want to look better” isn’t strong enough to hold your attention. Instead, “I want to lose weight so I can walk my daughter down the aisle at her wedding next May” or “so I can spend time laughing and playing tag with my children outside this summer” are examples of motivators that will help you emotionally stay attached and focused on your goals. Equally important, this motivator must come from you personally.  It’s not enough to say, “I am doing this so my wife stops nagging me to lose weight.” Keep digging inside yourself until you find your own personal motivator, then write it down and keep it somewhere you can read it any time you need to remind yourself why you’re making this change.

In order to be successful at behavior change, the focus should be on immediate attainable goals rather than long term results. For example, when you say that you want to lose weight you are defining what you hope to experience in the future. Weight loss is the outcome you hope to achieve in the long run, but it’s not the goal. Think about the steps you will need to take before you experience the outcome. For example, maybe you need to invest in a pair of sneakers or join a gym. These are things that you can do in the immediate future to get started.

Goals should always be “S.M.A.R.T.” This is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Reasonable and Time-based. A S.M.A.R.T. goal might be, “I will buy a new pair of running sneakers from Sally’s Sneakers on Sunday May 6, 2012.” Consider what might get in the way of this goal and adjust as needed. Again, I suggest writing your goal down and having it in a place where you can see it to remind yourself.

From time to time assess the success you’ve had with each goal. You might say to yourself:  “last week my goal was to buy a pair of sneakers— how successful was I with this goal?” Goals may seem small at first, but each one builds upon the success of the one before it.  As they link together, you’ll start to believe, “hey, maybe I can stick to my plan this time!” 

You may want to ask a friend or family member to be a support person for you to help you stay on track. Having a health coach is also a great way to set a clear S.M.A.R.T action plan. Coaches aid you in identifying those strengths you possess that can help you change your behavior. Once you begin to realize that you really do have the power to change, you will be well on your way to making a behavior change that will help you realize your long-term vision.

Photo Credit: Bryan Wintersteen

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