Breaking Old Habits

“Just do it,” urge the makers of Nike sportswear on billboards, in magazines, and wherever else they promote their products. This motto implies that adhering to a fitness program is just a matter of donning sneakers and heading for the track or gym. But, as most of us know from experience, sticking to a regular exercise program for the first time or changing eating habits isn’t always easy. Most people who successfully quit smoking make three or four attempts before they finally kick the habit; most people make the same New Year’s resolution at least five years in a row before they stick to it permanently.54 Breaking old patterns of behavior and developing new ones involves a number of stages before reaching the point at which you’re able to change for good.

First, you must accept the belief that you can change: “I can lose some weight and try to become more physically fit,” you might tell yourself. This might inspire you to want to change, which in turn will motivate you to find ways to actually make the change (for example, talking to a registered dietitian about diet strategies and reading about various forms of exercise). After you’ve gone through those steps, you will be ready to take action—that is, to “just do it.” Finally, to maintain your behavior change, you can create a game plan to help you handle the inevitable lapses that will occur over time. When you follow these steps and then stick with your plan for a good deal of time, you’re home free.

BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION Making lasting behavioral changes poses ongoing challenges. A process known as behavior modification can help. Developed by psychologists to help people change their habits, behavior modification techniques are similar to mapping out a game plan by following the specific steps listed in the margin on this page.

Set a Goal and Get to Know Yourself For Step 1, identify your goals. You might decide, for example, that your goal is to lower the fat and calorie content of your diet. Next, in Step 2, you record your present behavior pattern and think about the reasons for those behaviors. In this case, for example, you might keep a food diary, writing down everything you eat for five days and describing how you feel each time you eat (see Table 9-10 for a sample food diary). This technique will help you understand why you behave the way you do in certain situations. You might find, for instance, that every time you are angry at your significant other or get a bad grade you eat a candy bar or two to comfort yourself. Or, perhaps without even thinking about it, you nibble on whatever happens to be handy while watching television.

Elements of Behavior Change55

1.  Precontemplation: You need to change, but you're not yet ready to accept that fact.

2.  Contemplation:You want to change, but you're not sure how.

3.  Preparation:You gain knowledge to set up a plan of action for change.

4.  Action:You jump in and "just do it."

5.  Maintenance:You work on sticking to your plan of action.

6.  Termination: You have achieved lasting change and experience few, if any, temptations or relapses.

Behavior Modification Steps

Step 1: Identify the goal.

Step2: Record your present behavior pattern. Identify the reasons you practice these behaviors.

Step3: Identify the behaviors that will lead to the goal and the rewards of those behaviors.

Step4: Commit yourself to changing. Face what you'll have to give up or change to make the desired behavior a reality. Envision your changed future self.

Step5: Plan. Divide the behavior into manageable portions. Set small, achievable goals and plan periodic rewards.

Step 6: Try out the plan. Modify the plan, if necessary, in ways that will help you succeed.

Step 7: Evaluate your progress on a regular basis.

Behavior modification a process developed by psychologists for helping people make lasting behavior changes.

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