By Megan Moore, RD, LD, CDE
“The prevalence of healthy lifestyles across the United States remains very low.”
This was the conclusion of an extensive research study published in the American Journal of Public Health. But how can this be? The number one New Year’s resolution every year in America is either to diet or eat healthier. Followed by numbers two and three: exercise more and lose weight.
Most people don’t set out determined to be unhealthy. We all understand that eating healthy and exercising are good things. So where’s the disconnect? Why is there a large gap between intention and actual behavior?
If I wake up tomorrow morning and proclaim that I intend to eat 10 servings of fruits and vegetables today, what do you think the chances are that I will actually change my normal behavior and do that?
Research shows about 21% follow through on their intentions when it comes to diet changes. Let’s explore four key strategies proven to help bridge the gap between intentions and behavior, and, ultimately, make your normal lifestyle a healthy one!
1. Weigh the Pros and Cons of Change
We may say that we desire to eat healthier, but is it really worth it? For someone to truly make a behavior change, the “pros” of change must outweigh the “cons.” Researchers who study behavior change refer to the process of weighing the pros and cons of changing behavior as “decisional balance.” The decision to take action to change is based upon the relative weight given to pros (advantages of changing behavior) and cons (negative aspects of changing behavior; i.e., obstacles to change).
Take a look at this example:
So go ahead! Grab a sheet of paper and a pen, and make your own pros and cons list. Are the costs of making a change worth it?
2. Intrinsic Motivation
Motivation is the general desire or willingness of someone to do something. There are two specific driving forces of motivation:
- Extrinsic Motivation, which is other-determined, coming from outside. “My doctor wants me to walk every morning,” for example.
- Intrinsic Motivation, which is self-determined, coming from within. “I want to walk every morning because I enjoy it and I feel better when I do,” for example.
People are much more likely to stay motivated and achieve their goals when they are intrinsically motivated to change. Your goals should be self-determined, tied to your personal values, and part of your own wellness vision.
What motivates you to make healthy behavior changes? Health wise, where would you like to be six months from today?
3. Make Your Goals SMART
Goals are part of every aspect of life. We set goals for what we hope to achieve.
Goals at work help us to achieve optimal performance. Goals at home help us provide order and stability for our family. Goals for our kids help them to learn and mature.
Goals provide us with a sense of direction, motivation, and focus. How we talk about and create goals can set us up for success or failure.
Sometimes our goals resemble a hope we have or something we would like to do. But we often neglect key details that will help us to follow through and achieve these goals.
Take for example the goal, “I want to eat healthier.” This goal is very broad and leaves important questions unanswered. What does eating healthier actually look like for you? What do you need to do in order to eat healthier? When do you want to achieve this goal? How will you know when this goal is accomplished?
Compare the goal above to this SMART goal: “I will eat healthier by including two servings of fresh fruit at breakfast and three servings of vegetables at both lunch and dinner every day.”
This goal answers the questions above, and turns a vague hope into a set plan, with details that will help you achieve the desired outcome.
SMART Goal Examples:
- I will walk outside at a brisk pace 3 times a week for 30 minutes immediately after I get home from work.
- I will eat 5 servings of vegetables every day by having a large salad for lunch and 2 different veggies with dinner.
- I will get 8 hours of sleep every night by setting an alarm to start getting ready for bed at 9:00pm.
It’s your turn! Think about the goals you have set in your life and how you can make them smarter. Grab your piece of paper one more time and write out three SMART goals for this week.
4. Pray About It
Prayer is the most important step! God cares about every detail of our lives.
First Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Similarly, Philippians 4:6 encourages us to, “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Did you catch the words “all” and “every” in these verses? God wants us to talk to him about all of our worries and desires. He wants to guide us, direct us, and help us in everything we do!
As believers, the power of Christ in us is the secret ingredient for being able to accomplish God’s will in our lives (see Col 1:27; Phil 4:13; John 14:16-17). In fact, it is fruitless when we attempt to do things on our own accord. We must abide in Jesus just as a branch must abide in the vine to bear fruit—apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:4-5).
As you practice these key behavior change exercises in your own life, you will begin to bridge the gap between your good intentions and your actual behaviors. You will be well on your way to making healthy choices your new normal lifestyle.
Medi-Share’s exclusive Health Partnership program offers certified health coaches who can assist you in incorporating each of these new behavior change strategies as well.
Happy New Year!
College student intrinsic and/or extrinsic motivation and learning; Volume 13, Issue 3, 2003, Pages 251-258; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1041608002000924
Intrinsic Motivation; Edward L. Deci; Richard M. Ryan; First published: 30 January 2010; https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0467;
Dr. Mark Faries, PHD, associate professor, state extension health specialist, Lifestyle Medicine Conference 2019.