Patient Education

Setting Up for Success

Kerri Delaney and Leslie Barker

Fostering Wellness in Your Life

When approaching health behaviour change, it is helpful to imagine similar strategies working for others that may also work for yourself.

If you are once again feeling motivated to eat better, exercise more, drink less caffeine or make any number of the positive lifestyle changes you have been telling yourself you want to make. You have tried before—probably declaring another attempt as a New Year’s resolution—but without experiencing much success. Making a lifestyle change is challenging, especially when you want to transform many things at once. This time, think of those changes not as a resolution but as an evolution.

Lifestyle changes are a process that take time and require support. Once you are ready to make a change, the difficult part is committing and following through. So do your research and make a plan that will prepare you for success. Careful planning means setting small goals and taking things one step at a time.

Here are five tips from the American Psychological Association (APA) that will assist you in making lasting, positive lifestyle and behaviour changes.

Make a Plan That Will Stick. Your plan is a map that will guide you on this journey of change. You can even think of it as an adventure. When making your plan, be specific. Want to exercise more? Detail the time of day when you can take walks and how long you will walk. Write everything down, and ask yourself if you are confident that these activities and goals are realistic for you. If not, start with smaller steps. Post your plan where you will most often see it as a reminder.

Start Small. After you’ve identified realistic short-term and long-term goals, break down your goals into small, manageable steps that are specifically defined and can be measured. Is your long-term goal to lose 20 pounds within the next five months? A good weekly goal would be to lose one pound a week. If you would like to eat healthier, consider as a goal for the week replacing dessert with a healthier option, like fruit or yogurt. At the end of the week, you will feel successful knowing you met your goal.

Change One Behaviour at a Time. Unhealthy behaviours develop over the course of time, so replacing unhealthy behaviours with healthy ones requires time. Many people run into problems when they try to change too much too fast. To improve your success, focus on one goal or change at a time. As new healthy behaviours become a habit, try to add another goal that works toward the overall change you are striving for.

Involve a Buddy. Whether it be a friend, co-worker, or family member, someone else on your journey will keep you motivated and accountable. Perhaps it can be someone who will go to the gym with you or someone who is also trying to stop smoking. Talk about what you are doing. Consider joining a support group. Having someone with whom to share your struggles and successes makes the work easier and the mission less intimidating.

Ask for Support. Accepting help from those who care about you and will listen strengthens your resilience and commitment. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to meet your goals on your own, consider seeking help from a psychologist. Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body, as well as the factors that promote behaviour change. Asking for help does not mean a lifetime of therapy; even just a few sessions can help you examine and set attainable goals or address the emotional issues that may be getting in your way.

Start With “Why?”

Making changes in habitual behaviour requires a deep and abiding belief that change is needed. Your desire to change may be motivated by personal goals, or it may be the result of the impact your improved wellness will have on those you love. Nietzsche said, “He who has a strong enough why can bear almost any how.”

Once you have a compelling reason to change, develop a plan and commit to that plan. If you experience a moment of weakness, do not waste time on self-condemnation. Revisit your compelling reason and reaffirm your commitment to change. The health, peace, and sense of wellbeing inherent in the highest level of your own personal wellness is more than worth the effort required to change.

Boosting Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to take action. Having a strong self-efficacy is an important component of successful behaviour change. Below are methods to boost your self-efficacy:

  • Develop your locus of control: The degree to which people believe that they have control over the outcome of events in their life. Someone with a strong locus of control believes that they have a greater influence on their life than external forces.
  • Use visualization: The process of envisioning positive outcomes in future events.
  • Use self-talk: Your internal dialogue. Keeping this dialogue positive instead of negative.
  • Use role models: Finding individuals who display the behaviour changes you are looking to make.

Dealing With Relapse

Maintaining behaviour change overtime is challenging. Slips or relapses in poor behaviour are common and should be expected. What is important is how you deal with these slips or relapses and understanding that a relapse does not mean failure. Avoid guilt, shame, and self-blame when a replace occurs by doing the following:

  1. Forgive yourself.
  2. Give yourself credit for the progress you have made.
  3. Move on and do not dwell.

About the authors


Foundations for Success in Nursing: Manual Copyright © 2021 by Kerri Delaney and Leslie Barker. All Rights Reserved.

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