Whether it's quitting smoking, eating better, exercising more, or another healthy goal, making a lasting change to your behavior is hard work. Here are seven tips to help you stay on course—including when to consider enlisting the help of a professional.
- Go slowly. Allow time. You won’t reach the stage at which your healthy habit is embedded in a few days. Rather, it may take weeks, months, or even years.
- Be realistic and specific in your goals.
- Start with small changes. If working out at the gym for an hour is off-putting, start with half-hour walks instead. It's easier to set—and meet—a few small goals than one big goal.
- Examine your beliefs to see if any of them are undermining your effort to change. For example, do you tell yourself that you don’t have time to exercise? If so, draw up a weekly schedule. Even 10-minute workouts can improve health.
- Add things to your life to replace things you’re subtracting. If you are giving up cigarettes, get rid of that old jacket with the cigarette burn and treat yourself to a new one. If cutting calories, choose interesting new foods and recipes. If you’re giving up junk food such as potato chips, stock up on healthier snacks such as whole-wheat pretzels or popcorn.
- Tell your friends, family, and colleagues what you're up to, so they can offer encouragement and help out. Some may be trying to kick the same bad habit as you and be willing to join you in your challenge. But watch out for people who may sabotage your efforts.
- If you can’t change on your own, consider working with a therapist or counselor who can help you navigate the stages of change. Cognitive behavioral therapy may be particularly useful; it helps identify and change "maladaptive" thinking and behavior that keep you stuck in bad habits. There are also computer-based programs, either self-administered or guided by a counselor, designed to promote behavioral change.