Honing Your Health-Related Habits: 10 StrategiesClinical Expertise
May 17, 2022
When it comes to your physical health, and even rehabilitation needs, your physician and/or other providers may have been encouraging you to make certain changes. While some aspects of your physical health may be beyond your immediate control, your lifestyle and ‘health behaviors’ are controllable and can influence your physical health.
Yet, implementing and maintaining any new habit falls under the category of “easier said than done.” We have all been there. Fortunately, psychologists are behavioral health experts and know a thing or two about making new habits stick.
Types of health-related goals
- Measure glucose levels routinely if diabetic
- Engage in self-directed rehab exercises
- Quit smoking
- Take prescribed medication consistently
- Modify eating habits
- Increase activity levels
- Sleep with CPAP/BiPAP regularly if diagnosed with sleep apnea
- And many more!
What are SMART Goals?
The SMART goal method is a valuable way of creating small, pointed personal goals, particularly to meet an overarching mission or broader target (e.g., improve management of diabetes, reduce risk of future stroke, lose weight for a transplant, etc.). With a goal or new habit in mind, ask the following questions:
- Who? What? When? Where? Why? Which?
- How much? How often?
- How would I know when I can ‘check’ the task off of my ‘To Do’ list
- Do I have what I need to complete this goal (e.g. skills, tools, support, knowledge, etc.)?
- Is the task or habit related to my over-arching goal (e.g. become healthier, lose weight, etc.)?
- What is the deadline? When will I assess progress?
- What is my short-, mid-, and long-term goal trajectory, if applicable?
Assessing whether your tentative goals meet SMART goal criteria is a great start. Here are some additional tips to creating goals and forging new habits.
1. Pick your best time of day
Are you an early worm or night owl? For more involved tasks (e.g., self-directed rehab), you may consider the time of day you are most alert and motivated. If possible, avoiding the stress associated with forging a new habit closer to bedtime is wise.
2. Focus on lifestyle changes
When considering what changes to make, consider what kind of change will be sustainable and realistic. For many, adopting a diet feels restrictive, joyless and even punishing. Instead, think about modifying aspects of your eating habits (e.g., reducing number of sugary drinks per day, shifting the vegetables to carbohydrates ratio, using an air fryer rather than deep fryer, etc.). These changes can better accommodate personal tastes, culinary abilities, etc.
3. Sequence tasks
You may be trying to adopt a relatively small habit, and remembering to do it is the hardest part. Consider how it might fit into pre-existing routines (e.g., flossing after brushing teeth, taking medications when having a routine snack or meal).
4. Maintain a calendar or daily schedule/routine
Whether using a paper or electronic calendar, having a daily schedule or routine can help you prepare for, commit to and follow through with daily activities. Lots of unscheduled time can mean idle time, which is not beneficial for overall emotional wellbeing. And scheduled time can include rest. Setting alerts on your device to remind you to complete certain tasks (e.g., take medication at specific times) can also help.
5. Create rewards/incentives
Children will get gold stars for meeting their goals. What about you? Consider a reward at the end of the week and month when you have stayed on track with your goals. The positive reinforcement goes along way. If you’re feeling very unmotivated for certain tasks, consider more immediate rewards for completing parts of it (e.g., sit during a TV show while doing rehab exercises during the commercial breaks).
6. Not in the mood? Negotiate
What if you’re just not feeling like eating the meal consistent with your plan or completing some physical activity? Before throwing in the towel, try to negotiate. Maybe the walk outside can be delayed 30 minutes. Maybe skip the salad but go for a sandwich instead of fried chicken. But also know the risks associated with letting certain important habits slide (e.g., not checking blood glucose levels when diabetic).
7. If a goal seems too overwhelming, break it down.
You have set a goal, but there has been minimal to no progress in actually executing it. It may be that the goal is too large, and if so, breaking it down into smaller pieces will make it more manageable. As the expression goes, we can’t swallow the elephant whole.
8. Strategize anticipated obstacles
This is also known as Contingency Planning (“If faced with (obstacle), I will (take this action)”). Maybe it’s discomfort in completing certain tasks (e.g., feeling unprepared, experiencing pain), having few resources or support, limited knowledge, or wavering commitment and motivation. Consider soliciting feedback from trusted individuals who can help trouble-shoot obstacles, identify resources and hold you accountable. Revisit why the change is important to you.
9. Ask questions of and report difficulties to your MD
If concerned about or experiencing problems related to your physical health and health-related goals, consult with your primary physician. Your physician can offer you valuable information and, if interested, refer you to a behavioral health specialist, like a health psychologist.
10. Reflect on your values
At the end of the day, not only consider what you will gain from meeting your goals but also how to make changes that are personally meaningful. You may even come to look forward to your new habits, activities, or routines. For instance, a daily walk that you may have attempted to avoid is now one that you enjoy if you spend quality time with a loved one (or canine companion), meet neighbors or listen to nostalgic music.
Brooks Psychology Services
Brooks Psychology Services and Behavioral Medicine can be resources, inpatient and outpatient, respectively, through which patients can receive care from highly trained psychologists who can target health behavior changes—the life-style and behavioral factors that influence physical health.
During a course of inpatient care at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital, patients and families can request Inpatient Psychology services from the patient’s treatment team.