How to make change that lasts

woman cheering for her achievements

By Dr. Sharon Stills, NMD

Change can be hard to make and maintain. Yet change is a natural part of life. Without change, there’s no growth.

What kind of change do you want to make in 2019? Maybe you want to exercise more, cut back on drinking or squash negative thoughts. Change provides a pathway to improvement. By changing harmful behaviors and habits, we can become happier, healthier and more satisfied in our lives.

But no matter what your goal, change can be hard to make and maintain. Here are five tips to help you make change that lasts:

1. Plan ahead: Believe it or not, leaping into a change without any preparation is not the best approach. It’s better to take time to think things through. What specific behavior do you want to change? How might you go about doing this? What resources might you tap into? Who might be able to offer support?

If you’re interested in exercising more, is there a gym located near you? When is it open? Do you have athletic clothes and sneakers? Is there a person who might want to join you in exercise classes or workouts?

You’re more apt to make change that lasts if you spend some time reflecting on why that change is needed and how you might achieve it.

2. Set specific goals: Before you begin, spell out exactly what you aim to do. If you want to lose weight, specify how much and give yourself a deadline. For example, “I plan to lose 10 pounds in the next three months.” If your goal is to do more yoga, specify what classes you plan to attend and how many days per week you plan to go.

A specific goal gives you a target to focus on and provides a way to measure your progress. It also helps you know when it’s time to celebrate (see more on this later!).

3. Make sure your goals are realistic: When you’re setting goals, make sure you can actually reach them. You don’t want to set goals that are so ambitious they’re impossible to attain.

For instance, if you prefer to stay up late and sleep in, don’t set a goal to exercise every morning at 5:00 AM. Perhaps, plan to work out in the evenings. If you’re hoping to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, don’t plan on becoming a vegetarian overnight.

It’s better to start small and feel good about reaching gradual benchmarks than to set unrealistic goals and feel like a failure when you’re unable to meet them.

woman writing personal goals for 2019

4. Don’t go it alone: Share your plans for change with friends and family. Some people take to social media to announce their goals. Others may prefer to share their plans with a friend or spouse. Either way, let people know exactly what you intend to do. When you communicate a plan, you deepen your commitment to it. Friends and family members may want to support you and even join you for walks, workouts or healthy meals.

If you can’t think of anyone you’d like to share your goals with, write them down. Writing down goals also increases accountability and helps you stay on track. You can use a notebook to record regular progress towards your goals, such as what you ate or drank or when you exercised. I often ask my patients who are working on eating-related goals to keep a “diet diary.” Here, they write down what they’ve eaten on a particular day, and when we meet, we talk about it together.

5. Celebrate successes: Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back. Celebrate both large and small successes. While it might not be the best idea to celebrate hitting a weight loss goal with a gigantic ice cream sundae, there are many other types of healthy treats you can enjoy. How about a bubble bath or pedicure? Maybe take time to go for a walk with a friend. Make sure to balance your hard work with rewards. Rewarding yourself on a regular basis will help you stay inspired and maintain your change.

I hope these tips give you ideas to think about as you set out to establish and work towards your specific change goals. Remember, we are all in this together. Change is a part of life.

Get more positive advice from Dr. Stills with her popular blog 4 dos and don’ts to be happy in menopause.