By: Madeleine Ortiz
Everyone has a friend that seemingly accomplishes every single thing they put their mind to. It can be easy to believe that these people must be tougher or have more willpower than we do. When it comes to achievements, however, success actually has little to do with genetics or luck. Dr. Michael Vallis, registered health psychologist from Halifax, Nova Scotia…reveals that there are actually four key indicators that determine who is successful with behavior change – and anyone can begin building them into their lives right now.
Dr. Vallis invites us to think of someone we know that has successfully quit smoking. He predicts that this person is probably vehemently against the act of smoking now- even more so than people that have never even touched a cigarette. They’re vocal about avoiding places where smoking is allowed, and might recite facts about how terrible it is for health. This, is because they’re completely owning their new identity as a “non-smoker.” They’ve incorporated this new behavior, not only into their lives, but into their self-esteem. They are proud to share their positive behavior change, and according to Dr. Vallis, that’s a very good thing. The more someone can associate a positive behavior change with their identity, the more likely they’ll make the new, healthy habit a lifelong one.
Don’t feel ready to shout your new lifestyle from the rooftops? Dr. Vallis says it’s OK to fake it until you make it. Practice telling yourself things like “you love vegetables” or “exercising makes you feel awesome” and eventually your brain will start to believe it.
Believing in yourself should feel like an obvious predictor of success, but it’s actually way less common than negative self-talk for most people when trying something new. According to Dr. Vallis, confidence is critical for overcoming the barriers that will inevitably show up on your road to positive results. People who consistently achieve their goals usually do so because they never even imagined failure as an option.
Confidence feeling low? It takes some effort, but there are ways to get your self-esteem back where it needs to be. Dr. Vallis recommends choosing a goal, and then cutting it in half so it feels a little less daunting. Build upon small achievements and let the sequential successes keep the momentum and confidence moving. Most importantly, remember that life happens. If things get off track, jump right back on the plan and feel proud of your resilience.
Sports teams have coaches, medical staff and fans… and so do most people who have been able to make permanent, healthy lifestyle changes. Most great feats were accomplished by a team, and Dr. Vallis states that changing our behavior usually requires the same amount of support.
Afraid to be vulnerable about your goals with your entire social circle? Dr. Vallis tells us that’s normal. He recommends starting by choosing to share your goal with a few people that have similar ones. Once you get comfortable speaking within your small circle it’ll feel easier to share with others, and maybe even inspire them. If you don’t have any close family or friends with similar intentions, talk to your health care professional. They can offer you guidance and likely recommend online or in-person support groups.
Stress is a regular part of life that unfortunately isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The good news is that even if life is stressful, you can still be successful. Dr. Vallis emphasizes that eliminating stress is not as important as learning to manage it and control our reactions to it. When stress is being managed in a healthy way, it leaves more time and energy for pursuing positive behavior change.
Worried that stress is controlling your life? According to Dr. Vallis, it’s never too late to get a handle on it. Try exercise, deep breathing, talking or writing about it and most importantly, reaching out for support. Try not to look at stress like an enemy, but instead “tend and befriend.” Sit with stress and make a mental note of where it’s coming from. Decide if it’s helpful or harmful stress and use that knowledge to your advantage. The more comfortable we are with stress the easier it will be to manage.
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