How to Actually Succeed at Behavior Change

Here’s a harsh bit of reality for you: there is no magical method to making healthy lifestyle changes. Fad diets and exercise crazes might make it seem like there is, but they’re wrong. Sad news for the members of your community who want to change thier behavior.

The truth is that the secret to meeting overall health recommendations, from quitting smoking to getting more exercise, is to put one foot in front of the other–and keep doing it. Changing the way you live is simply hard. It just is.

However, there is one technique that actually can make that tough transition easier: setting SMART goals.

SMART Goals

SMART goals break down any task that seems too big to meet by breaking it down into what’s Specific (S) about the goal, how you can Measure (M) it, making it Achievable (A), and also Realistic (R) or Relevant, and setting up a Timeline (T) to complete it.

We talk about SMART goals all the time in our health education materials because they are so effective.  They make big lifestyle changes more manageable.

For example, think about someone who feels overwhelmed by a new diagnosis of hypertension. Their doctor tells them they need to exercise more and lose weight. They might start thinking “I have to run a marathon!” even though they’ve never walked further than the mailbox, or “I need to lose 20 pounds this month!” without considering what needs to change in their diet. Those goals are discouraging and impossible to achieve–a real setback for successful self-management.

Now, when you put a goal like “exercise more” into a SMART format, it changes from “run a marathon” to “walk around the block twice this week.” The difference is huge and makes behavior change something that most people can actually do.

SMART Goals and Behavior Change

Here are some examples of how SMART goals work with different health motivations. To take a SMART approach, they answer these questions (copy them down so you can use them with yourself or a client today):

  • What is Specific about the goal?
  • How will you Measure the goal to know it’s been achieved?
  • Is it Achievable?
  • Is the goal Realistic?
  • Is the goal on a Timeline?

Hypertension

Unspecific goal: “Follow the DASH diet.” The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a diet that many health providers recommend to patients.

SMART approach: “This week I will eat two cups of fruits and vegetables with dinner and lunch.”

Exercise

Unspecific goal: “Get healthy.” This very fuzzy goal is all too common among people who are trying to build more physical activity into their lives.

SMART approach: “I will meet with a mall walking group on Saturday morning.”

Dieting

Unspecific goal: “Lose 40 pounds.” Many people know they need to lose weight, and even how much, but that’s difficult without a path.

SMART approach: “This month I will lose 5 percent of my current weight. This will allow me to meet my goal by the end of the year.”

Smoking

Unspecific goal: “Stop smoking.” This is a common and clear directive. People need to stop but don’t know how.

SMART approach: “Tomorrow I will replace all the ashtrays in the house with a pack of Nicorette gum.”

Drinking Alcohol

Unspecific goal: “I shouldn’t drink so much.” Breaking through the habit of drinking is hard without a plan.

SMART approach: “I will pick two days this week when I won’t drink.”

Do you see how these short goals seem like something you can do? Meeting one goal makes it easier to move on to a new one. And that is the secret to better health: one step at a time.

Free Ebook: America’s Walking Renaissance

Everybody knows they need to exercise more and eat less. They probably even know that getting some physical activity—even walking for 20 minutescan reduce the chance of getting diseases like heart disease and hypertension, controlling stress and keeping the brain engaged. Plus, studies show that people who spend more time each day sitting (watching TV, driving around or sitting at a desk) are more likely to die early than those who don’t.

That’s all real. We know it, and that’s why we promote health in the communities where we live and work. But then the unrealisitc excuses kick in. That you have to run a marathon to be in shape. That you have to exercise by yourself. That you’ll never be able to fit in another thing with work, school, family…whatever's taking up time.

We need to correct that and show people that you can see real health gains by taking a short walk, and that getting any exercise is better than none.

America’s Walking Renaissance

You don’t have to take my word for it. Listen to Heidi Simon and her colleagues at America Walks and the Every Body Walk! Collaborative, who just released a new (free!) book: America’s Walking Renaissance.

America's Walking Renaissance

America’s Walking Renaissance is a journey across the US, taking a look at walkable cities of all shapes and sizes and providing resources and information on the growing walking movement,” Simon said in an email interview. “From Phoenix to Birmingham to Northeast Iowa, we look at how the US is taking steps towards walkability and look at lessons [from] other communities.”

She, along with Jay Walljasper and Kate Kraft, spent more than a year interviewing, researching and visiting locations all around the States to document successful walking programs. The aim in this project is to share information along with actionable tips, so more organizations and health educators can spark walking programs where they are.

Successful Walking Programs to Copy

A few examples from the free ebook:

Vision Zero, active in more than a dozen cities to reduce the number of walkers who are killed when crossing the street. Vision Zero pushes campaigns through local law enforcement and public education.

Better Bridges Bash, in St. Paul, MN, which puts on street parties in urban environments that are bisected by freeway bridges and overpasses.

Arlington, VA, a success story among suburban cities. Arlington has been named the most walkable suburb in the country. The city transformed itself over years, revamping everything from sidewalk space to accessibility of stores.

“It is our hope that this book will serve as an inspiration for communities looking to embrace walking and motivation for those already on the walking path,” says Simon.

Download the Free Ebook

Download America’s Walking Renaissance for free.

Popular Healthy Community Courses Now Available in Spanish

Release Date: Aug. 1, 2016

Learners can learn about diabetes, health literacy and health insurance in Spanish or English

WOBURN—Talance, Inc., today expanded the reach of its popular courses in health education and promotion. Now, three of the most popular courses are available in Spanish as well as English: Health Literacy: A Start, Navigating Health Insurance and Diabetes and Prediabetes.

The Spanish version of the online courses feature the same interactive curriculua as their English counterparts, and are accessible from nearly any screen from talance.com. They also allow learners to ask questions and have discussions in Spanish. The courses also contain new and updated on-the-job resources available for Spanish speakers.

“Having these courses available in Spanish is a powerful tool for spreading information about these vital health topics,” says Monique Cuvelier, president and co-founder of Talance, which provides training to groups, teams and organizations across the US. Past projects from Talance include courses in Hebrew, French and English as a second language.

“Spanish is the biggest non-English language spoken in this country, and having courses available to this huge swath of the population is important.”

Health Literacy: A Start (Entendiendo la Información Sobre Salud: Primeros Pasos) offers an introduction to health literacy and why it matters, including assessment and communication skills for addressing literacy gaps.

Navigating Health Insurance (Entendiendo los Seguros Médicos) introduces the terms and concepts related to health insurance so participants can help clients get insured.

Diabetes and Prediabetes (Diabetes y Prediabetes) introduces non-clinical community and health workers to diabetes and prediabetes so they can support their clients’ management of the disease.

Talance’s ready-to-go courses take place over one week and feature expert facilitation by fluent Spanish speaking instructors. They’re designed to build healthy communities in schools, worksites, health care and community-based settings. Talance also creates custom curricula for clients who want to build their own healthy communities.

For more information on these courses and other educational materials from Talance, please visit talance.com or contact Monique Cuvelier at (888) 810-9109.