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Support your new healthy choices in three ways

Are you finding your New Year’s resolutions are already a burden? Have those plans already fallen by the wayside?
Or you may be in the two-thirds of people who don’t bother with New Year’s resolutions.

Here are three ways in which you can support your new healthy choices. These are based on the current best understanding of behavior change psychology. Do these three things and improve the chances of saying “I did it” at the end of 12 months.

Slow down and think specifics of your new healthy choices

Generic goals such as “lose weight” give an overall plan. However, it would help if you thought about specific activities to improve your lifestyle. Many people leap into a massive program of change. They may begin by following a diet plan or setting an enormous goal, such as cutting out all sugar.

Slowing down and thinking about specifics will increase your chances of achieving a successful goal.

Say, for example, you wanted to cut out on sugar. You do not need to take such extreme action to improve your diet. Nutrition research supports reduction rather than elimination. It also specifies a decrease in “free sugars.” These are sugars added as sugar, syrups, or juices, not naturally occurring sugars. Follow this link to find out more about free sugars.

Consider which foods contribute the most added sugar to your diet. They could be high-sugar foods you consume less frequently or moderate-sugar food you eat more often. Make a list of two or three of those foods. Select the one you want to work on reducing first.

Yes, you read that right. Choose one at a time to work on.

If we try to change too much all at once, there is a significant cognitive burden of managing the changes. Having too many things to attend to will increase the risk of failure. So we might aim to make one change every two months. This focus will help you stick with these goals at the end of the year.

Environment is your key to boosting success in your new healthy choices.

If you are slowing down and setting single-change goals, you can set up an environment to support the single change. This will support your new healthy choice.

I had a client who was eating a 4th meal each day. She would drive by fast food shops when she finished work at 11 pm and nearly always stop in and buy something.

When we talked about it, I asked, “Why do you need to take money to work?” She had no reason to have money at work, so she agreed to stop taking her wallet to her shift. By not having the money with her, she could drive past temptation.

Initially, she worried she would still need to eat something before bedtime. I encouraged her that eating from home gave her more scope to eat well in the late evening than eating out.

She lost 12 kg over 15 weeks with “minimal effort,” and this improved her blood pressure.

Work towards making your goal a habit

Habit formation takes time and practice. When we are learning, we will make mistakes. Understanding and accepting that you are a learner will help you make new healthy choices.

My client found she was doing well but not all the time. She had a little side business, and sometimes people at work would pay her in cash. The available money led to several lapses.

At that point, I asked her to think about the reason she chose that particular change. I remember she had also remarked on the waste of money in buying these takeaway foods

“So how do you want to spend the money from your side business?” was my next question.

At that point, she described a holiday she hoped to take. We identified a symbolic reminder of the holiday (a picture of the location). The cash given went into an envelope attached to the image.

Did it stop all lapses? No. But it reduced them.

Understanding lapses and making choices about your new healthier goals

The last thing I asked her to reflect on was why she lapsed sometimes. On discussion, she identified it was often linked to the choices of food she took to work. She did far better if she ate a high-fiber vegetable-rich meal than if she had fewer vegetables. On balance, she felt that she could live with the occasional lapse. She thought she was not ready to change her work food selections. That was not the goal that suited her then; she could save it for another time.

Habit means you are no longer thinking all the time about your new choice. It will be the thing you do as part of your routine. No one has perfect habit compliance. When lapses happen, examining the “why” can be helpful rather than getting into a blame cycle. It is too easy to talk down the success of improving diet most of the time and only focus on the lapses. Changes that are done some of the time are still changes.



So you can support your new healthy choices in three ways:

  • Select single specific changes to work on.
  • Set the environment to support the specific change you are working on.
  • Make that specific change into a habit by understanding what might cause lapses and adjusting the environment to make lapses less common.

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Have you ever tried this single-change approach? What did you do, and did you succeed? Tell me below in the comments!


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