Make New Habits Permanent

Updated:Aug 8,2016

Man and woman shopping at the fruit marketGo For It: Know exactly what you want — reduce LDL cholesterol, quit smoking, get regular physical activity, etc. Work with your loved one and the doctors to identify these goals.

  • Make sure they are specific and measurable. Goals should state what needs to happen and by what date. Write them down and review them often.
  • Set long-term and short-term goals. Reaching certain goals takes a long time. To stay motivated, be sure to set realistic short-term goals that will lead to your final goal.
  • Develop a plan for each goal. Brainstorm strategies or steps to move closer to the goal.

Reward Yourself: When you set goals together, plan a reward for reaching each one. Rewards can be as simple as going to a movie, reading a good book or playing a round of golf. Select small rewards for reaching short-term goals (for example, completing weekly physical activity targets). Plan bigger rewards, such as buying a new piece of furniture, going to visit out-of-town friends or taking a vacation for attaining a long-term goal. Be sure to list a reward when setting each goal.

Track Your Lifestyle Habits: Many people are unaware of how physically inactive they are, how many grams of saturated fat, trans fat, and milligrams of cholesterol they eat and how their negative thinking triggers negative feelings. Keeping a daily log will show the patterns that contribute to your health risks. Tracking personal habits will help you wee where you might be able to make a healthier substitution and develop a plan of action specific to you or your loved one's particular needs. It also helps keep motivation high.

Manage Trigger Events: "The devil made me do it!" Not likely. But there are things in people's lives that may cause them to do certain things without thinking. For example, an open bag of potato chips on the counter may trigger snacking, even though your loved one isn't hungry. Or being tired after a long day at work may trigger you to think that you're too tired to go for a walk after dinner. What triggers one person may not trigger another. The key is to find out what you or your loved one's triggers are — and then plan ways to avoid or cope with them.

See All Progress as Perfect: Making changes takes time. One way to keep your loved one motivated is to keep records. It's fun to look back and see the progress you've both made. Keep a chart or make a graph for recording changes made in cholesterol and blood pressure levels, minutes of physical activity each day, number of grams of saturated fat, trans fat, and milligrams of cholesterol eaten each day, etc. Put a check mark on the calendar for each day your loved one meets a goal. You can also post a list of major milestones on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror to remind you both of your successes. These may include the first time your loved one walked a mile without stopping, reduced his or her blood pressure level 10 points, started driving again or got dressed without help.

Talk Yourself Into Success: Believe it or not, your loved one maintains an internal conversation all the time. So do you. It's perfectly natural to talk to yourself. It's what you say that's important. In fact, self-talk is critical to changing your lifestyle habits. Look at the examples below. Which person do you think will be more successful in the long run?

Self-Talk Situation: A person gets home too late from work to go for a nightly walk.

Negative Self-Talker

"I am so mad that I got home so late. Now I have to miss my walk. I'm never going to get my weight down if I keep missing my walks. This is so hard — I'm not sure I can do it."

Positive Self-Talker

"What a day! I'm bummed that I missed my walk tonight, but I got a lot done at the office. I'll just get up earlier tomorrow to fit in an extra walk."

Live Through Lapses: Many people expect change to happen overnight, but people rarely go smoothly from one readiness stage to the next. Your loved one will have good days and bad days. He or she will make some progress and then may slip back a little. This is all part of change. It's a "two steps forward, one step back" process. However, you can help reduce the likelihood of a lapse. For example, you can plan ahead for high-risk situations. Certain people, places, events or situations sometimes trigger a lapse. If you and your loved one can see them coming (such as the holiday season), you can plan ways to avoid them altogether or to minimize their impact. When a lapse happens, don't let your loved one get discouraged (remember the positive self-talk). Learn from the lapse and get back on track as soon as possible.

This content was last reviewed on 12/18/2014.


Healthy Living Resource Guide for Seniors

Any person of any age can make healthy changes. Our Resource Guide and exercise infographic will help you make smart choices as you and your loved ones look to maintain health and wellness.

Caregiver Journal Pages

    Hands Writing in a Journal

    These journal pages have been designed specifically for caregivers. Journaling is a valuable tool for caregivers and can greatly relieve stress.

    View All Journal Pages