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Change Your Health Habits

Do you have bad health habits, such as smoking, eating too much junk food, drinking too much coffee or not exercising enough? Do you want to break a health habit but just can’t seem to find the motivation? Here are some tips for jumpstarting your resolve.

Begin With the Benefits

It’s easier to do something hard if you can see the rewards. Ask yourself: What are the benefits of making the change? Then consider the negatives: What will happen if you continue your old, unhealthy habit? For example, if you wanted to eat healthier foods and cut back on junk food, you might make a list like this:

  • Benefits of change: more energy, feel better, lose weight, live longer
  • Negatives of continuing: gain weight, lack energy, put self at risk for serious disease (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes)

Pick out the most motivating reasons and use them to kick-start a new, healthier lifestyle.

Plan for Success

Once you’ve identified your bad habit and all the reasons you should break it, you need a plan. Follow these guidelines to create one that works:

  • Be specific. Identify your goal and break it into smaller, more specific goals. Instead of “I’m going to lose weight” or “I’m going to exercise more,” choose a more exact, attainable and short-term goal, such as:
    o “I am going to lose five pounds over the next two months.”
    o “I am going to exercise three times a week for the next month.”

Mastering a small goal before taking on a bigger one is more likely to translate into long-term results.

  • Make a plan. Based on your specific goals, put together a reasonable plan that includes all the necessary action steps. Plan each week by writing down exactly what you will do. For example, “I will run 45 minutes on the treadmill and/or do strength training for 20 minutes, three times a week. I will cut out junk food and snack on veggies.”
  • Track your progress. Keep a daily record of the changes you’ve made. After a week, evaluate your progress. Don’t be discouraged if you did not reach your goals. Praise yourself for the progress you made, and decide whether your goals were realistic. If not, adjust them and see how you do in the next week.
  • Treat yourself. If your goals were realistic and were met, then reward yourself with a little treat. Try something other than food, though, such as seeing a movie or downloading some of your new favorite songs. Then look forward to continued progress in the coming week.

What’s Your Motivation Style?

When it comes to what gets us revved up and raring to go, everyone’s different. Some people are motivated by the idea of achieving something positive while others are motivated by the idea of avoiding something negative. What’s your motivation style? For example, do you study for exams or work extra hard on papers because you’re afraid of failing, or because you want to maintain an excellent GPA?

If your motivator is fear of failure, focus on the negative stuff you’ll avoid by breaking a habit. That means if you want to quit smoking, you should focus on decreasing your risk of lung cancer and avoiding yucky bad breath and nicotine-stained fingers. If you’re driven by positive motivators, think of how much whiter your teeth will be and how much more breath you’ll have when you climb stairs—not to mention the money you’ll save by not buying cigarettes.

Who Wants You to Change?

Is someone else pushing you to change a habit? Changing only to please others won’t keep you motivated for long; however, as long as you really want to make the change good, it’s nice to have “cheerleaders!” Enlist your friends, roommates and family to help you stay focused and positive.

Who’s Your Role Model?

Has someone you know accomplished what you’re now trying to do? People whom you admire can be great motivators. Do you know someone who has quit smoking, changed his or her diet or made exercise a priority? Learn how he or she did it and model your own behavior accordingly.

Excuses, Excuses…

Even though we may have good intentions, sometimes we sabotage our own efforts without knowing it. Some people are great at coming up with excuses that prevent them from following through (“I have so many tough classes that there’s no time to get to the gym,” or “I was up so late studying and there wasn’t anything healthy in the room to eat.”) Lapsing once in a while doesn’t make you a failure. Just be careful that the slip doesn’t turn into a free fall. Be aware of your excuses and coach yourself using positive self-talk.

Remember, everyone who has accomplished something meaningful got there through consistent effort and focusing on a goal. So, believe in yourself and know that you can succeed!

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