Failproof Your Health Goals with this Four-Step Plan
Laura Del Guerra, RD, CDE, and Shannon Jones, Take Control Health Coaches
Success in improving your health, or achieving any goal, boils down to changing your habits. If you want to lose weight, lower your cholesterol, or stop smoking, you have to change your current habits and create new ones.
There are many reasons why some people fail and others succeed, but one of the biggest causes of failure is a lack of clarity. We often have a strong desire to succeed, but feel unsure about how to proceed. This uncertainty is caused by the lack of a specific plan. Once you know exactly what steps to take, you will have the confidence to follow your plan and see the success you desire.
“Knowing your why is an important first step in figuring out how to achieve the goals that excite you and create a life you enjoy living. Indeed, only when you know your “why” will you find the courage to take the risks needed to get ahead, stay motivated when the chips are down, and move your life into an entirely new, more challenging, and more rewarding trajectory.” – Margie Warrell
During coaching sessions, I often hear a goal like “I want to eat more fruit.” In its simplest form, eating more fruit is an intention: something you aim or plan to do. To turn your intention into a habit, you must create a pattern you follow daily until you reach a point where eating more fruit becomes something that happens automatically. The key to making your healthy habits automatic is to build a framework that makes it hard to fail. We’ve broken this process down into four steps that will create the framework you need to achieve better health.
Step1: Make a Plan
A plan will take your intention and make it a reality. Your plan needs to be specific and include the habit you want to develop along with WHEN and WHERE this habit will occur. Adding when and where to your desired habit more than doubles the odds of the new behavior occurring, according to a 2001British study. In fact, 91% of study participants succeeded simply by adding when and where statements to their desired habit. Those are great odds!
Let’s try this with the intention to eat more fruit: “I will eat a banana first at lunch in the break room Monday through Friday.” Notice in addition to when and where, I’ve added the time element of “first.” I’ve noticed that people tend to eat fruit at the end of the meal, like a dessert. This may sound like it fits the plan, BUT if you wait until the end of the meal you may feel full and be tempted to wait to eat the banana later as a snack. Eating it first ensures that the habit happens according to plan and that it is not forgotten. A weekend strategy might look like this: “I will eat berries after I finish my first cup of coffee in my favorite chair.”
Step2: Start Today
There is no time like the present! If you wait for the perfect time it will never come. Change is uncomfortable, and no one likes to fail. Fear of failure and being uncomfortable are two of the biggest barriers to getting started. From our successful clients, we’ve learned that change tends to happen outside of our comfort zone. As health coaches, we know people learn when they are curious, when they are open to opportunities and possibilities. We’ve seen success happen when our clients adopt a mindset of curiosity and are excited to try something new. If you still need a gentle nudge of when to start, try the first day of a new week or month. These are seen as days of beginnings, and people are more likely to take action on these days.
Step3: Put Yourself First
The pre-flight instructions about oxygen masks holds true in habit formation. “Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.” You need to commit to yourself. This comes easier for some and much harder for others. If you are in the latter group, consider that success will rarely occur until you put yourself first. Our list of people to care for is often long, making it hard to ever get to ourselves. Taking care of yourself first isn’t selfish, it gives you the energy and strength to better care for others. Putting yourself first ensures you have the energy, stamina, and bandwidth for everyone who relies on you.
Step4: Prepare for Modification
When you make it to this step you’ll notice that you are sick of eating a banana every day, or the berries don’t taste as good, or anything else that makes you feel restless with the habit. This is friction, and it happens all the time with long-established habits. Friction typically means that it’s time to change things up. Grab different fruit at the grocery store. Put something in the cart you’ve never tried. Simple swaps will keep a habit fresh.
To be successful at anything we need to be specific and clear with ourselves. The more specific you are, and the more a new habit is tied to existing habits in your routine, the more success you’ll achieve. In no time, you’ll be on your way to achieving your long-term health goals!