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Behavior Change Tactics

Behavior Change Tactics for new year resolutions 

It’s that time of year once again... when many seek to turn over a new leaf and better themselves in various ways by pursuing a self-prescribed New Year Resolution. January through February represents the time of the year many new faces will show up in gyms nationwide as people pursue the annual “it’s going to happen this year” body make-over plan. Unfortunately, by the time April graces our calendars most of these new faces disappear due to unfulfilled and often unrealistic goals. The reality is most people do not like to work out, and only consider it because they understand it is good for them. A major problem is a lack of knowledge, a lack of realistic thought process, and a lack of a support plan. Negative behaviors are what has created the problems, so it is positive behaviors that are needed to fix them.

The following tactics can be useful for sticking to New Year Resolution goals for rewarding improvements. It is certainly a physical and psychological battle to change ingrained habits and behaviors, so a comprehensive game plan is needed. In any case, goals should reflect controllable behaviors and be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and rewarding.                                         

Have a realistic and tangible goal:                

This may seem like common sense, but setting unrealistic goals is one of the most common errors among those who fail. Setting yourself a goal that is nearly unattainable will quickly have a major impact on motivation and adherence. Making sure your goal is tangible is also key. “Getting toned” is much harder to clearly attain when compared to a goal of losing five pounds. Furthermore, the development of a realistic goal forces one to consider the effort required for attainment. Does the effort required match the desire for the goal?

Create a realistic time-frame:                    

Don’t try to lose 10 pounds in two weeks. Creating an unrealistic timeline for goal attainment is another very common error. When the goal is not met within the improbable period, motivation will drop significantly even though it might have been obtained with an objective based plan. Real and lasting changes take a while to gain.

Identify daily objectives and understand their importance:

Daily objectives must be met to meet short-term goals– and these short-term goals build upon each other for long-term goal attainment. This means everything stems upon reaching daily objectives. Whatever the goal is, make sure to have well-defined objectives, and ensure they are met. There is something to be said for having milestones as well; having multiple short-term goals which lead up to the long-term goal can keep you focused and able to make adjustments as needed (if short-term goals are not achieved).

Begin with baby steps:

If weight loss for health and major aesthetic changes is the goal, nutritional improvements and exercise are usually both required. For some it is best to make small steps towards this goal, so they do not feel overwhelmed. For example, one could make modifications to their nutrition first, such as replacing one processed food with a piece of fruit – and once that change is concrete in your life, then add in additional goals as a next step – replacing a negative with a positive works twice as fast as either independently. Taking everything on all at once is very rarely achievable and removes the sense that the goal is reachable right out of the gate.

Slowly increase the frequency of effort:

This ties in with the previous point – don’t try to do everything at once. Some goals take significant effort; for example, training two days a week is significant compared to none and 4 times a week is an additional 100% increase. Make at least a small change habitual before taking on bigger challenges.

Use reminders:

Make good use of sticky notes wherever applicable and leave your goals listed on the refrigerator and even on social media. This is important to keep you on track and motivated. List weekly objectives and goals where they can be seen daily and indicate how you performed for each component. Leaving yourself simple supportive messages can help remind you of the importance of your goal (e.g., “Make sure to walk after work each night for 15 minutes – you know you feel better when you do!”) Exercise professionals should use this tactic through supportive emails and texts.

Keep a real-time log of improvements:

Trying to recall behaviors at a later date is difficult. For example, a food log can be very useful for those trying to improve their dietary habits or cut calories. This can also help with managing expectations – as many people want to see rapid improvements on the spot; looking back at how you have improved from where you started can give you an extra boost of motivation when it is needed most in the later stages of pursuing the goal (months in). A digital picture log is also useful as daily changes are rarely evident.

Be proactive rather than reactive:

It can be easier to change situations than to change your reactions or behaviors. This means if you know you cannot control yourself at night when chips and soda-pop are in the house – don’t buy these products at all instead of thinking you will have increased willpower to avoid them.      

Seek positive social support and accountability:

Your inner circle of family, friends and colleagues can contribute positively or negatively to your potential for change. Identify who is supportive to your goal so you can obtain positive feedback and accountability while distancing yourself from negative influencers, so they cannot derail your plans.

Appreciate that rewards work:

Recognize your progress with rewards based on your personal desires. Clearly, giving yourself sweets each time you meet a daily objective will be counterintuitive to a weight loss goal – but little rewards along the way are very useful from a psychological standpoint.


Source: NCSF Journal of Personal Training 2019

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