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Long lasting behavior change

If you’re anything like me you’ve probably broken about 15 New Year’s Resolutions in your life so far (mine were mostly tied around not cracking any more tennis rackets).

It feels great to ring in the New Year with great intentions of going to the gym regularly, playing more tennis (hint, hint!), taking more time for yourself, starting to meditate, eat better, decrease your screen time, get more sleep or whatever else it is you want to change. And for the first 10-14 days, we feel great about ourselves when we stick to the plan. Once we meet the first obstacles, however, we start to make excuses. “Oh, the one time not going to the gym won’t hurt me” or “if I just spend 20 more minutes online today I can cut back again tomorrow”. The intervals of not engaging in the desired behavior become longer and longer until ultimately we go right back to our old behavior. The membership for the gym goes unused, the “intelligent” books we wanted to read gather dust, the healthy salad molders quietly in the fridge, etc.

Why is it so hard to make behavior changes stick?

I trained at Duke University as Integrative Health Coach assisting people in behavior changes and I understand that it’s a combination of factors: Lack of connecting our goals to our vision and values (finding our “Why?), lack of importance and confidence, poor goal setting and planning and lack of accountability.

In the next 5 days, I will walk you through the most important steps of the change process in order for you to successfully change behavior. I strongly suggest that you do the exercises in writing. This will help clarify your thoughts and will start the process of holding yourself accountable.

Let’s start today by developing a vision and defining your values.

You may already have a specific thing in mind that you want to change, say you want to play more tennis. With this in mind, take a few minutes to imagine how you would look and feel in 3 years if you could maintain that change. Try to envision who is in your life at that point and what your relationship with them is like and how engaging in your desired behavior affects the rest of your life. Try to paint as vivid a picture as possible. Fill out your vision with sounds, colors, smells, tactile sensations and anything that comes up for you. Hang out in this space for a little bit to anchor this vision of a better self in your brain. Then write down as much as possible of what you created. This is your vision of a “better” self.

Now on to identifying your values. Let’s assume your vision included you playing doubles with your family or friends having a blast. You see yourself laughing and having fun while exercising. The things that come to mind as your values are spending time with family and staying healthy. Maybe playing more tennis means getting fitter to do other activities such as hiking or skiing. You see where I’m going with this. Again, write all of this down.

Once it is clearer what your vision and values are it becomes a lot easier to use them as motivational tools that help make your resolution “sticky”. When you know what the underlying “why” is for the desired behavior change it goes a long way to avoid the above-mentioned rationalizations and excuses.

Coming up next: Exploring and supporting your readiness for change by highlighting the importance of the desired behavior

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