Change is not always easy. We spend years developing bad habits, like snacking while working at the computer, or sitting in front of a television to unwind after a long day.
Long-term change, though, isn’t impossible. Using a combination of mobile apps, health coaching, and clear goals, researchers from Northwestern University helped people eat better and reduce their screen time.
To make changes in your life, and develop healthy habits that stick, you can follow the same simple steps:
- Start with a clear goal—such as eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, or spend less than 90 minutes of leisure time a day in front of a computer or television. Give yourself two weeks to reach your goals. After that, focus on maintaining them consistently for one to two weeks.
- Set up a system of accountability. Record your activities daily. Check in with a friend each day, someone who will make sure you are staying on track.
- Once you have developed your new habits—after three to four weeks—you can reduce the daily recording and check-ins. Cut back gradually, working down to a monthly phone call or email to your friend.
Researchers from Northwestern University paid participants for sticking to their goals during the first three weeks. Build this type of incentive into your plan by asking a friend to hold onto your money—or something else of value—during the beginning, payable when you meet your goal consistently for two weeks.
Even after the financial incentives and daily check-ins stopped, participants in the study still stuck with their plan, although at a lower level of success. Don’t expect perfection. With persistence and planning, though, you can get healthy fast.