Health related behavior change – efforts to change people’s personal habits to prevent lifestyle disease.

Why is it so dang hard to change behaviors?

MYTH:  It is just common sense.  If behavior change was simply common sense, we would all be able to make whatever changes we wanted to whenever we wanted, and we don’t.

MYTH:  Knowledge and information drive behavior.  Unfortunately giving people information alone does not make them change behavior.

MYTH:  People act rationally.  This assumes that if you tell people what is good for them and what they need to do to protect their health, they will do it.

MYTH:  People act irrationally.  If people don’t act rationally all the time, neither are they always irrational.  Behaviors that persist tend to be functional for people. 

What are evidence-based approaches that work for health-related behavior changes? 

  1. Self-monitoring – using weight charts, tracking steps, food logging
  2. Provide quality feedback – the WDS Health Risk Index!
  3. Form intentions “I statement” – I will exercise every day for 30-60 minutes.
  4. Set SMART goals – Setting goals that are specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic & time bound. 
  5. Perform goal autopsies – examining goals and related outcomes.

What we have learned to help form new health related behaviors: 

  • Frequency counts over quality.  Really, your absolute biggest priority when attempting to form a new habit, should be just do it.  Do not worry about performance, just do it … over and over again.      
  • Distraction & rewards work.  Breaking a big goal down into little segments works for people especially when they celebrate their micro-successes.  And distraction to help yourself avoid those cookies in the kitchen, by doing a household task until the craving passes.  Struggling on a walk or run? Try counting to pass the time and keep your mind off the task at hand.    
  • Fake it until you make it – We used to believe that motivation was based on a model of:  Thoughts > Feelings > Behaviors.  When it comes to health-related behavior change, it has been suggested that Behaviors > Thoughts > Feelings.  Research has shown us that even by standing in a “Superman pose” (behavior), we report feelings of confidence & pride (feeling).  Similarly, if people force themselves to smile (behavior), they report feeling happier (feeling).  By performing the behavior (healthier eating), you may create positive feelings on your food choices.  Additionally, if you are “not feeling” that workout (behavior), do it anyways.  You may just feel happier, calmer and more accomplished afterwards (feeling)!