Have you heard that 80 percent of people do not follow through with their New Year’s resolutions? This popular statistic can be traced back to research by Norcross and colleagues who found that only 19 percent of people were able to maintain their resolutions over a two year period. It is no secret that habit change is challenging. It is also easy to imagine how success with New Year’s resolutions might be more challenging with the many competing demands of life in today’s military.
Despite the challenges of making them stick, New Year’s resolutions are great opportunities for military providers to help patients set effective goals and action plans for positive changes. Although habits can be automatic and the urge to repeat them strong, bad habits can be broken and new positive habits can be consciously formed. This behavior change checklist based on the latest scientific evidence can help ensure success with priority goals. It can be applied to personal and/or professional goals including improving performance on physical fitness tests, meeting weight standards, excelling at work roles, and creating more balance in life:
- MAKE IT EASY: One of my clinical supervisors used to recommend picking something so easy that “you can almost do by falling over backwards.” Identify a behavior that is very small and simple so that it is easy to fit in a busy schedule. For example, if a military patient wants to start a regular meditation practice, an easy goal could be starting with three minutes a day. Easy quick wins can help develop confidence and momentum. You can always choose to do a little more while knowing that you already accomplished your goal.
- REPEAT REGULARLY: Another reason to find an easy behavioral goal is that regular repetition is central to establishing new habits. From the perspective of building habits, it is better to have multiple short practices during the week than one big practice once a week.
- LINK TO A CUE: Connecting a new behavior with an existing part of your day can provide helpful reminders and support developing new habits. These reminders can take many forms such as a visual cue (e.g., a note on the fridge with reminder of eating goals), a typical activity in your life (e.g., taking the stairs instead of the elevator to increase exercise), or a regular event (e.g., the time you wake up or go to bed to trigger an activity like journaling). There are also mobile apps and calendar functions that can help remind you of behavioral goals and track progress.
- MEASURE IT: First, choose a specific behavior that is easy to measure. Second, set up a simple system to track your success. Just the mere act of monitoring instances of behavior change can reinforce behavior change. A tracking system can be as simple as using check marks on a calendar for each day/week.
- ENGAGE OTHERS: Sharing your goals with others can reinforce your commitment and enlist valuable support from others. You can also find others with similar goals, whether with family and friends or others with similar interests. For example, military members sometimes create unit exercise challenges or identify workout buddies as a way to support one another with fitness goals.
REWARD SUCCESS: Building in rewards for yourself after reaching different plateaus to recognize positive changes in behaviors. Rewards are a basic way to reinforce new behaviors and are especially useful because developing new behaviors can be challenging. Rewards can be as simple as sharing your accomplishment with others or treating yourself to something you have looked forward to doing.
PHCoE wishes you a very happy and healthy New Year! We also welcome your feedback. You can share any tips or examples for setting goals, developing action plans, and finding workarounds for common challenges in the comments section below.
Dr. Mark Bates is the associate director for the Psychological Health Promotion Directorate at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence that envisions health as not just the absence of illness, but also a state of physical, mental and social well-being and military readiness. He has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is a retired Air Force clinical psychologist and pilot.
The views expressed in Clinician's Corner blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Psychological Health Center of Excellence or Department of Defense.