Changing For Good: How to Keep Your New Yearís Resolutions

M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Date: December 2009

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Weíve all been there. We decide this is the year weíre going to lose those pesky pounds, or get fit, or quit smoking. We try. We know these are healthy choices. Yet we fail. Why?

Research shows that you may need to make the same resolution for three years before you can succeed. Perhaps this is because most of us try to take action before we are really ready.

Research shows that everyone moves through five stages before making a successful behavior change. Knowing what stage youíre in and how to move forward may be just what you need to make this the year you succeed.

The first stage is actually the moment before you even realize you want or need to make a change. For example, your doctor may advise you to lose weight but you think itís is hopeless to try. Maybe your friends or family have been asking you to quit smoking, and youíre thinking, ďitís their problem not mine.Ē The good news is that once you start thinking about making a change, youíve got one stage behind you!

The second stage is all about the pros and cons. Youíve come to the realization that you need to make a change and though you might not be ready, youíre open to seriously considering it. This is the time to start thinking about all those false starts youíve had before. But donít just think about what hasnít worked; think about your successes too. Perhaps youíve lost a couple pounds in the past or youíve quit smoking for a day.

The third stage is planning. Youíre thinking about the future now more than the past. The pros of the new behavior now outweigh the cons of the old. Youíre ready to start putting together a plan. Itís time to really look at what motivates you and what works best.

The fourth stage is the busiest and is the time for taking action. You are putting your plan to work. When others begin to notice, youíll be motivated to keep going.

The final stage may be the hardest. Your new habit is now routine. The challenge is to keep up this new behavior and not fall back into old habits.

So which stage are you in? Recognizing that changing habits isnít an all-or-nothing, one-step affair can be the first step toward success. Once youíve made the decision to make a change, here are some helpful strategies that might further increase your chances for success.

Number one. Go public. Let others know you are trying to quit smoking or that youíve started an exercise program.

Number two. Focus on rewards instead of punishment. Donít punish yourself when you slip up. Instead reframe your thinking to highlight the positive steps you are taking to be healthier.

Number three. Learn more about the change youíre trying to make. Gather information from web sites, books, videos, classes, support groups or your health care provider. Knowing all the benefits of your healthy change can serve as powerful motivation.

Number four. Write everything down. Keep an exercise log or a food diary. Youíll be more aware of your behavior and more accountable for the choices youíre making.

Lastly, make SMART goals. Take small steps that are measurable, attainable, realistic and timed. For example, if youíre goal is to lose weight, a SMART goal might be to lose 10 pounds within four months, or two and a half pounds each month.

So, will this be the year? Itís time to take that first step and make a change for good.

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