Small changes make a big difference
It’s the New Year and many people are resolving to make changes in their lives, especially concerning the food they eat. But we all know how that often goes! We’re super motivated during January, but by the time February rolls around, the enthusiasm has worn off and we’re back to our old habits. So how can we make changes that are sustainable for the long term?
Dr. BJ Fogg, founder and director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, has been looking into this challenge, and he’s identified a formula for any successful shift in behavior. He suggests that the first step to a successful change is motivation. You need to pick a change that you really want to do, not just feel like it’s something you ought to do. So think carefully through your motivation to change your diet, is it for your health?, for the environment? or for the animals? for example. Find or print out a positive picture relating to that motivation and stick it on your refrigerator – perhaps it’s a picture of you when you were healthier and more energetic, a picture of a beautiful forest, or cute farm animals – something that will inspire you every time you think about food.
The second step is to find a simple first action that you can easily do. Perhaps you can find one plant-based recipe that sounds delicious, and plan to make it and eat it within the next week. Perhaps the next time you eat out, you can choose the vegetarian or vegan option on the menu instead of your usual favorite. Or perhaps you’ll decide to eat a piece of fruit in place of a less healthy snack. The simpler the step, the more likelihood you have of success, and success is key to motivating yourself to try again.
The third step is to prompt yourself, reminding you to continue this success. Post a recipe you plan to try on the refrigerator, or put bookmarks in a cookbook of the plant-based recipes that look appealing. Make a shopping list of foods you intend to buy, so that you don’t just grab the foods you’ve always bought. Remove foods from your fridge or cupboard that you don’t intend to eat anymore. When eating out, look online at the menu beforehand and decide what you will eat, so that when you get there, the choice is simple.
The fourth step, whatever you choose to do, is that every time you take a positive action in the direction you wish to move, celebrate immediately, with an internal “Good job!” or an outward fist pump. If you can include other family members or friends in this change, and celebrate each small step together, you will get greater rewards and feel even more motivated. This will help your brain associate the change with positive feelings and make you want to do it again. You will feel happier about repeating the change until it becomes a regular habit, and by celebrating every time you take a positive step toward the diet you desire, you’ll feel motivated to move on to more or bigger challenges.
Before you know it, you’ll have taken the steps needed to change your diet, and your new habits will feel like old friends.