Regardless of the time of year that we decide to eat better, exercise more, or be less stressed, it can be hard to make a lifestyle change, and even harder to make it stick.
But there is a way to up your chances of success.
Experts say efforts to make lifestyle changes are more likely to produce results if they are SMART — that is, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based. If you're thinking of making a change, see if your goal can pass the SMART test:
- Set a very specific goal. For example: I will add one fruit serving — that's half a cup, chopped — to my current daily diet.
- Find a way to measure progress. For example, I will log my efforts each day on my calendar.
- Make sure it's achievable. For example, don't set a goal of a daily 5 mile run if you're out of shape. If you can't safely or reasonably accomplish your goal, set a smaller, achievable one.
- Make sure it's realistic. It may seem counterintuitive, but choosing the change you most need to make — let's say, quitting smoking or losing weight — isn't as successful as choosing the change you're most confident you'll be able to make. Focus on sure bets: if you picture a 10-point scale of confidence in achieving your goal, where 1 equals no confidence and 10 equals 100% certainty, you should land in the 7-to-10 zone. An additional fruit serving a day is a small, manageable step toward better health.
- Set time commitments. Pick a date and time to start. For example, Wednesday at breakfast, I'll add frozen blueberries to cereal. Pick and regular check-in dates: I'll check my log every week and decide if I should make any changes in my routines to succeed. Find an outside deadline that will help keep you motivated. For example, signing up for a charity run or sprint triathlon on a certain date prods you to get a training program under way.
You can make the changes necessary for a healthier, more rewarding life. The strategies offered in Simple Changes, Big Rewards, a Special Health Report from the Harvard Medical School, can help you do just that.