Is It Really Possible to Change the Way We Behave?

By Paulette Lambert, RD, CDE, Chief Dietitian at Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village
Los Angeles, Westlake Village, U.S.A.

We all can appreciate how hard it is to really change bad habits. If it was that easy most of us who have a moderate amount of motivation would be thinner, healthier and fit.  Why is so hard to change bad habits that are often causing us much pain, physically and mentally?

The basic reason for failure is that to make lasting change in behaviour it usually involves a substantial commitment of time, effort, and emotion.  While we often have the motivation or desire to do it, we often go into it ill-prepared, with unrealistic expectations, and try to do too much too soon.  The one major reason cited in research for failure is that we try to do too much too soon.  Most of us are too busy and cannot stay focused long enough to develop a new, better habit.  Keep in mind that research shows that it takes 66 days of focus for 97 percent of us to change a habit.

Can you really change habits, swapping the bad ones for those that make us happier and healthier?  Whether you want to lose weight, stop smoking, get fit, or lower your cholesterol there is scientific research that, if followed, improves your odds of sustainable change. You may have to try several different techniques, often through a process of trial-and-error, to achieve your goal.

Principals for success:

Do not try to do everything at one time.  While having an overall goal is important, research shows it works best when broken down into smaller goals with the use of small steps to get it done.  Practice 1-3 small steps for 66 days, such as consuming 3 pieces of fruit a day or doing 30 squats a day. Making it easy is one the most important factors in success.  Once the behaviour is routine, move on to 1-2 more. If not successful, break it down into smaller steps, to make it so easy there is no way you cannot accomplish it. Once you feel confident that it’s a habit, add another small goal with small steps.

Seek rituals not results:  Yes we want results but that comes after a new behaviour is in place.  A lifestyle change is not an event, it’s a process. Think of it as building a portfolio of good habits, which requires time to do so.  Being more concerned about the practice of new behaviour than the end result will get your there in due time.

Change your environment:  Build an environment that is conducive to the change you want to make.  Our negative behaviour is often the result of the environment, which means you need to clean up it up if you do not want to fail.  If you want to eat healthier, surround yourself with the best food choices; if you want to exercise more, have an easy 10 minute workout plan you can do anytime, anyplace.  The biggest change that will make a new habit happen is to design the environment that can make the habit succeed.

Don’t assume small changes do not add up.  Good habits develop not because we want them to or because we know what to do, but because we practice them.  Frequency is what makes change happen.  Eating 2 pieces of fruit a day adds up to 730 more pieces in one year, 30 squats a day is 10,950 per year; definitely small changes can have big impact on your wellbeing.

Every habit that we have, bad or good, is the result of many choices made over a long period of time.  If you really want to change bad habits for good ones, work on the good behaviour that will get your there, one step at a time.  Results will follow!