Making Small, Manageable Change for 2016

Unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time. Replacing them those behaviors with healthy ones requires time, too. People often run into problems when they try to change too much too fast.

One at a Time
Is your life perfect? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that it needs a drastic overhaul.
This year, instead of aiming for a complete overhaul, try making one, small behavioral change at a time and follow it through for six to eight weeks. In other words, make a new habit.

To improve your chances for success, focus on one goal or change at a time. As new healthy behaviors become a habit, you can add another goal that works toward the overall change you’re striving for.

How long does it take to make a habit? A common answer is 21 days, based on a popular book in the 1960s. But scientists who study habit formation say it’s not that easy.

There isn’t a magic number, and even if there were, it would be more like 66 days, according to one recent study. On average, it took people 66 days for a new healthy habit to feel automatic — things like eating a piece of fruit with lunch, or drinking a glass of water after breakfast.

To make a new habit, your brain is learning a new behavior, and it takes more time to learn some tasks than others.

As you form your new habit for the start of the year, keep in mind that the key to success is to make a realistic and attainable habit. The following tips can help.

Your life now. Focus on areas you’d like to change. For example, if you want to improve your diet, keep a food diary for a week and find a place for a smaller change.

Be realistic. Don’t resolve to exercise seven days a week, for example. Try adding a new exercise time for one day a week, replace and evening TV show with a walk(link to Dr. Ondra/Dr. Murthy walk article)

Small, specific steps. For instance, if you want to improve your diet, you could choose one of these:

  • Choose 100 percent whole-grain bread and pasta rather than white flour kinds.
  • Cut out one glass of wine.
  • Opt for lean ground beef, turkey and chicken. Cut back on processed meats such as hot dogs, salami and bacon.
  • Add an additional serving of fruit or vegetables to every meal.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast every day.
  • Drink sparkling water or water with lemon or cucumber, instead of regular, high-calorie soda.
  • Grill, broil, bake or steam foods instead of frying.
  • Cook with healthy oils such as olive, canola and sunflower oils in place of partially-hydrogenated oils or butter.
  • Buy foods with little-to-no added sugars, including unsweetened applesauce or unsweetened whole-grain cereals.

Stay on Track
Once you’ve settled on your six- to eight-week goal, these strategies can help you stick with it.

Let seek friendly support. Even better, team up with someone with similar goals so you can work together.

Go with a pro. Look for a therapist trained in behavior management, a registered dietitian or another professional who fits your goal. That person may provide the extra help you need to achieve your objective.

Keep on track. Check in on your progress each week. Tweak your plan based on how things are going. Making a chart may help. Below is an example of how you might keep track of how you’re doing.

Week of [date]:

I am on track

I can make a few changes to make my goal a reality

I need help reaching my goal

I am going to refocus my effort and work on my goals next week

January 24





January 31





February 7





February 14





February 21





February 28





Cut yourself some slack. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, quit smoking or exercise more, relapses are bound to occur. When they do, don’t give up. Just get back on track with your plan.

Small changes can add to up to better health.
Need help coming up with your commitment to change? Try some of these ideas:

  • Reduce the amount of cream in your coffee.
  • Give up sugar in coffee. Try flavored black coffee instead.
  • Drink a glass of water with each meal.
  • Substitute sparkling water for soda.
  • Go to bed half an hour earlier.
  • Commit to an after dinner walk each night.
  • Do yoga once a week.
  • Don’t drink alcohol during the week.
  • Take the stairs at least once each day at work.
  • Switch from white rice to brown rice.
  • Only make whole grain pasta at home.
  • Pack your lunch four days a week.
  • Add fruit to your breakfast.
  • Choose oatmeal with dried fruit over sugary cereals.
  • Park your car farther away from your destination and walk.
  • Get up 15 minutes earlier each day to stretch.
  • Go meatless one dinner a week.
  • Add beans to your list of regular side dishes.
  • Meditate once a week.
  • Lay out your workout clothes before you go to bed.
  • Run or walk a 5K.
  • Find an exercise buddy.
  • Plant an herb container garden.