Changing For Good: How to Keep Your New Years Resolutions

M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Date: December 2009
Duration: 3:41

Return to Focused on Health

We've all been there. We decide this is the year we're 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 you're 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 it's is hopeless to try. Maybe your friends or family have been asking you to quit smoking, and you're thinking, "it"s their problem not mine." The good news is that once you start thinking about making a change, you've got one stage behind you!

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

The third stage is planning. You're thinking about the future now more than the past. The pros of the new behavior now outweigh the cons of the old. You're ready to start putting together a plan. It's 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, you'll 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 isn't an all-or-nothing, one-step affair can be the first step toward success. Once you've 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 you've started an exercise program.

Number two. Focus on rewards instead of punishment. Don't 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 you're 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. You'll be more aware of your behavior and more accountable for the choices you're making.

Lastly, make SMART goals. Take small steps that are measurable, attainable, realistic and timed. For example, if you're 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? It's time to take that first step and make a change for good.

Return to Focused on Health