January is a time to reflect on lifestyle changes that you want to improve upon. We suggest doing so by making small goals throughout the upcoming year versus big changes. The approach of making goals that are attainable and realistic helps build healthy changes into your everyday life. Identify the most realistic options. Pick a few goals that you can see yourself achieving – meaning that you are ready to make change happen in those areas. It could be going to the gym, stopping smoking, eating healthier meals, being more engaged at work…the list goes on.
Here are some helpful things to remember as you work toward change:
- Change happens one step at a time and by making a step-by step-blueprint, this helps simplify the process and when it is simple, it is more doable. Starting small and making changes one day at a time so that you can succeed at actually doing the new behavior, makes the most sense, such as going to the gym 3 days vs. 6 or 7. When people make the change gradual, this allows for more time to PRACTICE the new behavior. Repetition is the basis of memory and helps to form new patterns and pathways in both the body and brain.
- It also helps to talk about your goal with others who you know will be supportive. This is evident with regard to quitting smoking, sharing your plan with family members or co-workers who don’t smoke and who are going to cheer you on and strengthen your commitment. When you get support and have people in your corner, it helps immensely. Further, if you relapse or are not able to maintain the change or slip up, it is important to not beat yourself up. We are human and make mistakes, so the idea is to learn from the mistake and move on. Stay the course.
- Success is more likely when people write their goals on paper. It is comparable to making a written contract or agreement with yourself and it creates a connection between the thought and the action. Writing it down brings it from a free-floating idea to the actual doing.
- Sometimes it might be necessary to enlist the help of a professional counselor or health coach to help you identify other strategies, or make some adjustments to your goals to re-design what is realistic and help build a sense of belief in yourself. It helps when people think and speak more in the affirmative with a “can do” attitude as compared to statements such as, “I don’t think I can go to the gym because… or quitting smoking is difficult…” Saying to oneself, “I am tobacco-free or I am a non-smoker…:” is more effective and in the direction that you want to go.
- Take time to look how far you have come and see the progress. This allows you to see what is working and what is not working and then you can tweak or adjust certain aspects.
- You can also build on your momentum, for example let’s say you have been going to the gym and feeling better and this leads you to decide to quit smoking – each of these behavior changes supports the other one.
Finally CELEBRATE your momentum and reward yourself along the way.
Evy Smith, MA LCMHC, CTTS-M, is an EFAP Counselor & Tobacco Treatment Specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center.