The beginning of a new year is when most people set goals for better health and fitness habits. The end of January is when most people give up on those goals! How can you make this one the year of change?

 The Challenge: Small Steps for Big Changes

Start by setting goals you can keep. Instead of diving in with an intense work-out plan, try setting the smaller goal of walking 30 minutes every day.  You’ll feel better and increase your chances of success. Once you have the habit firmly established, start adding a few more small steps such as a stretching break instead of a coffee break. Or, add 5 sit-ups and 5 push-ups first thing in the morning. As you meet end goal and keep the routine for 2 weeks, add a little more.

 Replace a Bad Habit with a Good One

The substantial changes we want to make to our diet, fitness level or overall wellness start with an ending – the end of a bad habit. When it comes to bad habits, the best strategy is to replace to eliminate. Replacing a bad habit with a healthy habit will not only increase your chances of success, it will help you break the bad habit in a matter of weeks, and sometimes, just a few days.  Here’s how you swap out the bad with the healthy:

Identify your triggers – Habits are behavior patterns you practiced often because they helped you feel better. Each of these patterns formed for a good reason, usually to combat stress. Once the stress is gone, the bad habit remained.

Identify one behavior that you want to change, such as snacking while you watch TV. Look for the “triggers” that signal it is time to engage your habit. Your trigger may be feeling stressed. It might be you have programmed yourself to grab a snack whenever you watch TV.

Choose a healthier behavior habit – Once you know your triggers, choose a new healthier habit you can substitute for the one you want to eliminate. Whenever you would normally engage the old habit, make a plan to use the replacement behavior. Choose a new habit that is interesting or exciting to you. Make it something you can look forward to doing, or something you can enjoy eating.

Visualize success – Remember who and what you were before you picked up your bad habit. Recall all of the things you used to enjoy and imagine yourself doing those things again.

Bad habits are behavior imprints that have been used often. Your behavior is the result of your thoughts. When you visualize, you prepare your brain for a shift in your behavior. The desire to use the bad habit lessens with thoughts of more enjoyable activities.

Plan for failure – If the stress that started the habit pops back up in your life, you will be tempted to return to your old habit. After all, you started that habit because it felt good. Expect that you may have a slip or two. When it happens, remember that failure is the starting point for a new opportunity to succeed. Avoid negative self-talk about your failure and just start over the next day.

Find a support team – Find a new group of buddies who have a similar goal and support your new healthier lifestyle with like-minded friends.  Many fitness programs also offer support services with on-line forums or social gatherings to help you stay focused on your new healthy habit.

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Filed under: Happiness Challenge

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