Dr. Gray's Straight Talk

Honest and blunt healthcare discussion and advice.

Guidelines For Successful Change

Posted by Dr. Gray on Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I read an article in a local publication recently and thought it had some pretty good points. I’ll try to sum it all up in a quick, easy read:

Ten Steps To Lasting Change

  1. Face the Truth – Start being honest with yourself. Quit making excuses for your bad habits and tell yourself the truth. Examine your bad habits and be honest about the pros and cons of continuing that habit.
  2. Write a New Story – “It runs in my family…”; “I just don’t have the will power…” Excuses are nothing more than an internal narrative you use to justify bad decisions. Since it’s all in your head, you’re the only one that can change it. Start telling yourself what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. “This family trait ends with me!…”; “I’m not perfect, but I can do it…”
  3. Get Ready For “Psychic Surgery” – Realize that the psychology effects of changing habits are as tough as the physical effects. Prepare for this difficulty so you can recognize and fight the weakness when it pops up.
  4. Set a Date – By picking a time to begin your new eating plan, workout routine, or smoking cessation, you allow yourself time to prepare, but you also set a deadline. Public commitments are more powerful than private ones… tell others about your plan and start date.
  5. Set Realistic Goals – Don’t make your goal to “lose 150 pounds.” Instead, make your goal to lose ten pounds over the next month, then set a new goal. If your goal is to walk more, aim for 15 minutes three times per week then increase from there. It’s always more rewarding and motivating if you exceed your goals than to almost make it. Goals should push you, not break you.
  6. Make Change In a Positive Way – Frame your internal dialogue around the positive as opposed to the negative. Instead of “I will not smoke,” say, “I am a non-smoker.” Instead of “I will not overeat,” say, “I eat small portions several times per day.” Don’t focus on the negative or you will rapidly lose your stamina and will power.
  7. Put Change at the Top of Your List – Make the change you want to make one of the highest priorities in your life. Focus on that change until it’s second nature, then re-evaluate and decide what to change next.
  8. Build In Feedback – Hold yourself accountable! Keep a food diary, an exercise log, etc. A written record supports #1, Facing the Truth. No more, “What candy bar?” It’s on the paper so when you ask yourself why you only lost 4 pounds this week instead of five, you’ll know why.
  9. Reward Yourself – Reinforce your behavior and truly reward yourself for doing well. When setting your goals, give yourself something to strive for. A full body massage if you go two weeks without a smoke. Buy yourself flowers for losing ten pounds. A new golf club for walking three times a week for a month. Just make sure the reward comes after you’ve accomplished what you intended.
  10. Regroup, Don’t Retreat – Are you going to slip? Are there going to be mistakes? Sure, of course there are. However, don’t stop trying. Realize it’s the plan that is flawed, not the goal. Continue reviewing these guidelines, and alter your plan until it moves you towards your goal. Don’t give up… just try something different.

One thing I’ve found that helps with making lasting change is a post-it note on your bathroom mirror. Start each day by reading a message to yourself, an affirmation, or just a word of encouragement. Print, or better yet, write out these guidelines in your own handwriting and stick them on the fridge. Stay focused and stay positive… you can achieve nearly anything you want if you just decide to do so.

Dr. Gray

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