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Getting Back on Track: Changing Your Behavior to Achieve Goals

Photograph of people crawling through mud
DoD photo by Army Staff Sgt. Pablo N. Piedra

Many of us approach resolutions for the new year with great determination, but then find that the road to success is bumpier than expected. Spring is a good time to take stock of how you’re doing. If you feel you aren’t meeting your goals, it’s not too late to regroup and set yourself up for success.

Bradford Applegate, a behavioral health expert with the Deployment Health Clinical Center, explained some reasons people give up on personal goals and why success requires behavior change. When you change counterproductive behaviors and adopt new ones, you’re more likely to see positive growth, he said.

Why People Fail to Change

Tracking how you behave in situations related to your goal can help you detect which of your habits or behaviors may cause you to fail. 

Identifying the behaviors that led you off track is the way to help you understand what works for you. Maybe you want to lose weight, but you’re so hungry by the end of the day that you overeat at dinner. You might experiment with eating a bigger lunch or having a healthy snack before dinner.

“When you get to the point of failure, you need to recognize when that’s happening and take action,” said Applegate.

Tracking and changing your behaviors is just one way to get positive results. Here are some common reasons people get off track and how to turn them around:

  • Ineffective approach. If your goal is to watch less television at night, it’s ineffective to keep a television in your bedroom. Develop an approach that will foster success: remove the television from your room so you aren’t tempted by it. Make better choices by identifying barriers and removing them.
  • Lack of motivation. Realize that your motivation will fluctuate as you pursue your goals and make it easy to stay on track. If your goal is to work out five mornings a week, make sure you get enough sleep so you feel like waking up early. Identify moments when your motivation is lacking and when it is high. Observe the things you did when you felt highly motivated and try to do them when you feel slowed down.
  • Going on autopilot. When you’re setting goals, autopilot is your enemy. Pay close attention to every decision you make. When you are more mindful about your choices, you are more likely to incorporate new ideas.
  • Bad decisions. If your sink is leaking, putting a piece of chewing gum on it to stop the leak is at best a temporary fix. A better decision is to call a plumber and get it professionally repaired right away. We do this with our health goals looking for a quick fix or a workaround. Such strategies may hurt you in the long run.
  • Negative reactions. It is common to make the occasional stumble regardless of what you’re trying to achieve. Cut yourself a little slack -- when you’re too critical on yourself, it becomes easy to quit.  If you only lose two pounds for the week and your goal was to lose three, give yourself credit for losing weight that week. Track and celebrate the small victories as they happen. Remember, goals worth obtaining require hard work.

Be S.M.A.R.T with Change

The most important step in meeting your goals is preparation. What you do before you start your behavior change affects your chance of success.

The S.M.A.R.T method is one approach to goal setting. Here’s a closer look at this method:

  • “Have I created SPECIFIC plans to succeed in my goal?” It is easier to succeed when you have a clear, practical plan.
  • “How MEASURABLE is my goal?” Determine measureable points throughout your process to track your progress.
  • “Is my goal ACHIEVABLE at this point in my life?” Pick goals based on your ability to fit them into your lifestyle. Achievable goals fit into your lifestyle without requiring too much change.
  • “Is it REALISTIC to complete my goal right now?” Choose goals that fit your schedule and still allow you to live a productive life.
  • “What amount of TIME do I need to successfully complete my goal?” When your goals are time-bound, create a logical overview of what you need to do to make them work.

Stay Calm and Celebrate Success

Remember to remain patient; change takes time. The first 30 days of a goal are considered the short term. During this period, you should manage high-risk situations and focus on the process, not the outcome.

The intermediate term begins on day 31. Stay flexible and open to trying new activities or approaches. When six months hits, you’ve reached the long-term stage. Celebrate your success!

“Remember that your motivation will continue to wax and wane,” said Applegate. “I am a fan of telling others about your behavior change goals because it makes a statement that you are investing in yourself.”

 

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This page was last updated on: April 18, 2017.