Workplace Wellness - Maintaining Changes in Health Behaviors
The first article in this series discussed the use of Prochaska’s Stages of Change Model (1) as a way to assess your readiness for making behavior changes to improve your level of wellness in the workplace. The model proposes that self-change in behavior is a process that occurs through five stages and that individuals use a variety of psychological and behavioral processes for making those changes. As you are working on making changes to your current habits, you will want to have a clear idea of which stage you are in. The stages are: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. The next step to successful implementing change is to have goals. Goals should be S.M.A.R.T. which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant/realistic, and time bound (see article 1).
At this point you should know how ready you are for change and should have some very specific goals. These steps are important as they establish your intention to change. But there is more to long-term success besides setting goals and intending to change. According to something called Social Cognitive Theory, to maintain a new health behavior you may also need to change your environment, apply some self-regulation techniques, and build some self-efficacy. Behavior change is complex and you may be happy to hear that it really doesn’t come down to willpower. You simply need to have a basic understanding of how to set yourself up for success. Thankfully, many hard-working behavioral psychologists have spent careers studying this topic which has resulted in a number of practical techniques that you can incorporate into your S.M.A.R.T. goals.
- For example, take your environment. Your environment can trigger you to make unhealthy decisions without you knowing it. If you want to make your new health behaviors stick, then you need to facilitate the new actions. If you want to meditate at your desk, buy a headset. If you want to eat more fruits and vegetables during the day, then you need to have them on hand so they are quick to toss in your lunch tote. You get the idea but this simple step is often overlooked.
- Then there is self-regulation, which refers to making yourself accountable and having a method to stay on track. Using one of the free online food and activity tracking tools is a great way to do this. Through the use of these tools, you can have a history of your food intake and activity at your fingertips, and can see where you need to make additional improvements as well as when you can give yourself a pat on the back. A support group is also a great way to increase your self-regulation. Most online food and activity tracking tools have “communities” that you can join, food and exercise challenges, and forums where you can garner support.
- Self-confidence or self-efficacy is another very important component of making lasting behavior change. Mastering a new health behavior takes practice, as research shows that it takes anywhere from 21 days to 2 months to form a new habit depending on the complexity (2). However, the more you engage in the new behavior, the better and more confident you become. Before long, the change will no longer be new but will be automatic.
Assessing your readiness for change, setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, setting up your environment to facilitate your new actions, developing an ability to self-regulate, and building up your self-confidence in your skills to perform the new health behaviors are all important pieces of the health behavior change puzzle.
If you have your goals in place and have started to make changes but find that you are not where you want to be or you have fallen off of the proverbial horse, know that setbacks are normal and to be expected. The way you react to those setbacks can be the deciding factor in whether or not you achieve your goals. The truth is that there is always time and opportunity to reinvent yourself but a positive attitude is essential. So if you find that your S.M.A.R.T. goals have not panned out, then reevaluate them. Think about setting smaller goals and revisit your timing, support system, and environment. Remember how powerful the use of an online tracking system or mobile app can be to measuring your success.
Finally, make your health and wellness a priority in your life and remember that no matter how many times you get sidetracked, there is always a chance to turn things around, refocus, and set yourself on the road to optimal health.
- Contendo, I. (2011). Nutrition Education: Linking Research, Theory, and Practice. 2nd ed. MA: Jones and Barlett.
- Grohol, J. (2009). Need to Form a New Habit? 66 Days. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 13, 2012, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/10/07/need-to-form-a-new-habit-66-days/
Jennifer Koslo, PhD, RD, CSSD, CPT
Jennifer Koslo is a full time professor with Kaplan University’s School of Health Sciences and teaches courses such as Vitamins, Herbs, and Nutritional Supplements, Sports Nutrition, and Contemporary Diet and Nutrition. Ms. Koslo is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and one of the few Certified Specialists in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) in the country. In addition to teaching online, Ms. Koslo is a sports nutrition consultant on a private consultation basis.
Ms. Koslo received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Juniata College, and earned a dual Master of Science in Human Nutrition and Exercise Science from Colorado State University. She earned her Registered Dietitian certification from the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and Colorado State University, and is a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics certification from the ADA. She also holds a PhD in Education with an emphasis in instructional design for online learning from Capella University.
In addition to serving in the US Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, West Africa, for 2-1/2 years, Ms. Koslo also worked as a cardiac rehabilitation dietitian, and at the Arizona Department of Health Services as the chronic disease nutritionist. She is also an American Council on Exercise Certified Personal Trainer.