Get Ready, Get Set...

African American woman flexing arm muscle

You’re psyched about the power of change. You feel better already about your choice to pursue a tobacco-free life or reduce stress or move more. Whatever it takes, you tell yourself, you’re onboard.

And there’s no need to let time roll by until a new year. Beginning on a birthday or simply on a Monday after a bad weekend could be your best place to start.

In addition, research shows that it’s easier to form new habits when your environment or situation changes. So if you’re facing a life change, take advantage of a new natural rhythm. Relocating or starting a job could provide the “fresh start” motivation you need.

Motivation is the first key element in changing your behavior. But it’s not that easy — your focus can wane. Two-thirds of the people who were followed in a recent study had abandoned their New Year resolutions within a couple of months.

Foundations for Success

First, be proactive. Do you want to give yourself a deadline or what’s called “a commitment device” for adopting a healthy behavior? You could make a deposit to an account that you can draw only when you go without alcohol or cigarettes for a set period. Or instead of money, you could restrict access to a favorite television show until you visit the gym.

Talking to people who’ve taken the same journey might help. Or you can hunt for information about how to support your health goal. For instance , if you want to lower your heart disease risk, adequate sleep can be essential. Conversely, if you’re trying to improve your sleep, a Mediterranean diet may help. Getting enough sleep is essential to almost any healthy lifestyle goal.

Molehills, Not Mountains

Major change requires major commitment, and being unrealistic may set you up for failure. Are you trying to start an exercise program when you have a lot of competing demands in your life?

Maybe it’s hard to “get with the program” because a “program” is complicated.

A better strategy, according to behavioral scientist and author BJ Fogg of Stanford University, is to adopt small, simple habits . These are steps that are so unimposing you have no real reason to skip them. Fogg’s behavior model holds that a behavior is rooted in motivation, the ability to achieve it with ease, and a prompt — an existing activity in your routine that will cue you to perform the new habit.

So rather than an exercise program, think of one easy-to-achieve activity that you can plug into your day. Maybe it’s a stretch on the edge of your bed before you get up, or a couple of leg curls as you prepare your morning beverage.

Other bite-size behavioral changes might involve nibbling on a carrot every time you open the fridge, forgoing an after-dinner cigarette for a piece of dark chocolate or taking a few deep breaths before you launch into your workday. Wise choices are simple ones on which you can build.