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Most of us know what we should do to improve our health, but we find it hard to start or we make changes but we can’t sustain them.

Change is challenging

Change can be challenging because often we have formed our lives around unhealthy habits and behaviours that are ingrained in everything we do. So it takes significant re-thinking and planning to change habits that are interconnected with our lifestyle.

Information and education are important but they aren’t enough to ensure healthy behaviour change. Here’s where some psychology can help.

Change is a process

Making a decision to change your lifestyle is the first step; but most people falter when it comes to maintaining a new behaviour.
Understanding that change is a process that happens over a period of time, and requires planning, support and maintenance strategies, is crucial for success.
It is vital to be flexible as any new regime will take time to establish and often life intervenes. You may work out your perfect routine but something might interrupt that — injury, going on holiday, a work demand or even — and the inclination can be to give up. At this point, it is important to re-assess and apply the same process you started with to this new situation. For example, if you are going on holiday, think about how and where you might exercise while away – prepare and make a plan.

Setbacks happen

It is normal to face setbacks but it is important not to focus too much on your lapses. It’s quite normal to revert to old behaviours but it’s important not to focus on what you didn’t do and become disappointed or disillusioned with yourself. Try to return to your healthy behaviours as soon as possible.

Substitute instead of sacrifice

It’s also important that change involves modifying your behaviour slightly or substituting something different, but not depriving
yourself. You shouldn’t need to cut out everything you enjoy, or give up everything you love – in some cases it’s about substituting one thing for another. You might crave sweetness, so maybe a piece of fruit will satisfy that craving. It’s still possible to indulge in less healthy options but it’s about limiting those things so they are occasional rather than every day.

 

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Step 1: Identifying the benefits of change

Think about how your lifestyle is affecting your health and happiness: is your current lifestyle costing you your health? Do you avoid activities or social events due to your health or weight? Would making a change actually benefit you?

Step 2: Thinking about the Barriers to change

Identify the barriers to change and evaluate how you could overcome those barriers. Some changes can be made easily while other changes will take more time. Start with the small changes that are easier to achieve.

Step 3: Making a Plan of Action

In order to make change, you must plan. Change will involve new actions, new routines and forming new habits. Recruit family, friends and colleagues as your support team, or find other ways of ensuring you have support for your changes.

Step 4: Taking Action

Start your new regime and gradually build up your lifestyle to support your goal. If increased fitness is your goal, try to build activity into your life as well as exercising. For example, add a walk into an outing, walk to the shops or public transport. Try to increase your physical activity in small steps by looking for opportunities to be active every day.

Step 5: Rewarding Success

In order to maintain your new lifestyle, you must reward yourself for reaching your goals. Acknowledge and reward your successes in healthy ways – go out with friends, see a movie, have a healthy treat, or do something active and fun.

Step 6: Managing any Relapses

It’s quite normal to find yourself lapsing into old habits. Don’t despair or get too down on yourself. Try to return to your healthy behaviours as soon as possible. Permanent change requires a new behaviour or activity being incorporated into your lifestyle in order to become a habit and part of your daily routine.

 

For more information please go to APS website. 

© 2015 The Australian Psychological Society

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