Here's What It Really Takes To Make A Lasting Lifestyle Change, According To Science

Here's What It Really Takes To Make A Lasting Lifestyle Change, According To Science Hero Image

Manifest the year of your dreams by going inward. Renew You 2017 is a month of mindfulness during which we’ll share content that guides you to create a deeply rooted intention for the new year. We’ll help you navigate inevitable obstacles with the latest science on habits, motivation, ritual, and more and equip you with tried-and-true techniques to outsmart even the toughest inner critic.

There's no way around it: Lifestyle change can be hard. And it doesn't matter if you're attempting something as complex as an elimination diet, picking up meditation for 10 minutes each day, or just trying to remember to take the stairs at work—habits are tough to establish.

And so—in order to maximize our success as we set health intentions for the new year—we sat down with sports psychologist Amy Baltzell, president-elect of the Association for Applied Sports Psychology, to talk about the science of motivation. She gave us some expert tips on how to make the psychology of habit change work for you instead of against you. Here are the things we should all consider as we manifest our 2017 goals and dreams.

Dig deep and pick something of real personal value.

When it comes to making changes and finding the motivation to stick to them, make sure it's something you personally value. According to a psychological principle called Self-Determination Theory, value is even more important than enjoyment when it comes to motivation—but it's even better if you can pick something that you both value and enjoy.

Being a little bit selfish will work to your advantage.

To break it down simply, you need to feel like you are working toward a goal that you personally value. At some point—if you feel like you are being forced, controlled, restricted, or trapped into changing—you will fail. This feeling of a lack of independence can come from pressure from other people or cultural standards that you feel are trying to control you in some way. So take some time to dig deep and decide whether you are really making this change for YOU.

Don't forget to believe in yourself.

If you don't really see yourself changing or truly believe you can do it, then you probably won't. This doesn't mean you have to believe that you'll never eat gluten again or skip a day at the gym for the rest of your life, but if you believe you can do it for a week, month, or year—that will get you where you want to be.

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Practice self-compassion; it may be the secret to success.

We all experience failure at some point, but when we feel strong feelings of doubt, anxiety, stress, or self-loathing we don't get back on our feet very quickly. So if we can learn to be kind to ourselves in that moment, everything changes. Research has shown that self-compassion is positively associated with health-promoting behaviors and negatively associated with physical symptoms. Basically, self-compassion is a predictor of good physical health, and this relationship is mediated by health-promoting behaviors like sleep, exercise, and healthy food choices.

Fail, and then recover.

Let's be honest, going cold turkey when it comes to lifestyle change is very uncommon. We have to expect that at some point we are going to fail. And if you are kind to yourself when you do, you empower yourself to keep trying. So plan for it! Develop a strategy to get yourself back on track that will minimize negative thinking. Don't get stuck in a miserable pattern.

To get started harnessing the power of motivation, here are eight of Dr. Baltzell's best tips for successful habit change:

  1. Tap into the reason you want to change: It must have value to you.
  2. Tap into the reasons you don’t want to change: What would you have to give up, and what would others have to give up?
  3. Know that the beginning of change is the hardest: Once we start to create a new habit, we will learn to love it.
  4. Create a restart ritual: You'll want to know just what to do in case you don't stick with the change. And then actually use it if that happens!
  5. Share you intended habit change: Share it with someone who truly cares about you and will support you—no matter what.
  6. If you can find someone to make the habit change with, do it: When you have someone to count on (and someone counting on you), you are more likely to commit to forming new habits and lasting change.
  7. Set up your environment to support your change: If it's to lose weight, get rid of the things in your house that might trigger or tempt you.
  8. Plan for failure: How you can be kind to yourself in the moment of disappointment? What do you most need to hear?

Sometimes we forget just how complex we are. And there are so many emotions, thought patterns, and environmental factors that can make or break our ability to stick to a new lifestyle change, no matter how much we want to change. But when we start to understand the psychology of our motivation, we can be mindful and forgiving—making us so much more likely to succeed.


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