There’s no doubt about it: implementing long-term behavior change is difficult.
This struggle is probably most relatable when it comes to our health. We mostly know the healthy lifestyle we’re supposed to be living (exercising regularly, eating a nutritious diet, adequate sleep, not smoking, limiting alcohol, etc), but life itself always seems to get in the way.
The struggle to make behavior changes
So why isn’t our future health enough to motivate long-term sustainable behavior change? Surely, a healthy lifestyle that improves how you feel and look is enough motivation to say no to dessert? Unfortunately, most of us delay living the healthier lifestyle we know we should to next week, next month or (particularly during the silly season) next year!
It doesn’t matter if you’re a world class athlete or taking the first step towards a healthier you. Implementing positive behavior change will take some hard work and dedication, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it! Here are some of our favorite tricks to help you stick to new routines and behaviors.
1. Use intrinsic motivators to your advantage
Intrinsic motivators are linked to those lovely feelings we get when we do something we enjoy.
Neuroscientists have shown that internal satisfaction releases dopamine into the brain. This powerful hormone controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers that attach positive emotions to experiences. As a result, we repeat behaviors seeking those same feelings. Therefore, dopamine is often associated with addiction. This is bad for negative stimuli, but for positive choices it can be the edge we need to stick with things for the long term.
In a health and fitness setting, some common intrinsic motivators are recognition, personal bests and feeling in control. Recognition in particular is something Personal Trainers and Group Fitness classes have relied on for many years – and with great success too! Their clients feel great, so they turn up more often.
Extrinsic motivators on the other hand are related to external rewards. These include: tangible prizes, short-term goals (like losing weight for a wedding), or the risk of penalties or punishment. While still powerful, they are unlikely to make the process enjoyable. This leads to resentment of the task, and ultimately a fall from grace once the goal has been reached, making them unsustainable.
If you allow negative stimuli or distractions in your life, they will take over (because you’ll ultimately choose instant gratification). Remove or replace them with positive stimuli so you can focus on making small steps towards long term change. Some simple steps might include introducing healthy snacks into your home, or reducing screen time throughout the day
While removal or replacement is the easiest way to minimise distractions, you can also use affirmations to help you focus. There’s a lot of scientific evidence explaining why positive reinforcement and self-empowering thoughts work. Positive Psychology have written a great article to demystify the ‘magic’ behind positive affirmations.
3. Go easy on yourself
As covered earlier, if you encourage and enjoy your pursuit then it will happen naturally over time. Whereas if you’re obsessed with the outcome, you’re more likely to associate the pursuit with negative emotions. This can lead to sporadic dedication and rebounding results.
In fact, in an analysis of 129 studies of behavior change strategies, a British research group found that the least effective approaches were those that encouraged a sense of fear or regret.
So, don’t set unrealistic goals that ruin the fun for you from the beginning.
Also, don’t let yourself throw in the towel because you slipped up once or twice. After all, keeping your eye on the ball is tricky (we have some extra tips for you for this time of year). Behavior change is a long-term strategy so, if you need to, reset, refocus, and start again tomorrow. You’ve got this!
4. Seek personalized advice specifically relevant for you
We’re living in the age of personalization for health and wellness. Everything from sleep routines to our footwear can be tweaked using our personal data, and the people seeking out this information are reaping the benefits.
Studies into personalized medicine have proven that patients who are aware of their individual circumstances can see a 50% improvement in their existing treatments, and the same can apply to diet or fitness routines. In fact, at myDNA we found that 60% of individuals who received a personalized, DNA-powered program solidified changes to their lifestyle within six months.
Our research shows that real change and results only come from sustainable, long-term plans, powered by personalization and behavioral science, despite all the quick-fix-silver-bullets out there! That’s why we’ve developed a DNA-Powered platform backed by the principles above.
We make long term change appealing, fun and instantly gratifying. So if you’re finding it hard to know where to start, or struggle to find motivation, then we urge you to try some of the principles above or get started with a monthly myDNA membership.