Practical Tips for Successful Behavior Change

Rebecca Scritchfield
January 7, 2013

We're one week into 2013, and if you made a new year's resolution, you're probably still on course. But if long-term change is what you're after, make sure you're setting realistic goals to see lasting results.

I find that people tend to set lofty, over-the-top goals that are completely unrealistic to begin with--and then beat themselves up when they fall short. What's the point of setting a goal that you'll give up on before you start, or will quit just after just a few days of trying?

I always tell my clients that it's better to set realistic, shorter-term, achievable goals that you can keep as part of your routine for the rest of your life. Avoid the temptation of the quick-fix scheme or myriad of diet products on the market today. There's a reason they make millions upon millions of dollars … they don't work, and people keep coming back for more!

Instead, make use of these tips when setting your 2013 goals, and I promise you that, come this time next year, you'll be feeling great and in control of your healthy behaviors!

[See In Pictures: 11 Health Habits That Will Help You Live to 100]

1. Put it on paper. One of my favorite sayings is that "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Jot down your goals, and include a reminder about why it's a good time for you to start working on each goal. Think of it like an important work project, and approach it with just as much responsibility and accountability.

2. Identify your barriers. Map out what resources you need to achieve your goals. If you're trying to increase your exercise, are you missing any basic equipment? If "running out of time" has been an excuse in the past, then map out a 24-hour day to see where your time is spent and where pockets of time exist to work on your goals. Often, the idea of "no time" is just an illusion, and a little prioritizing is just the ticket. Maybe childcare is an issue (I am learning this!), so what can you do to get some help and set aside a little "me time?" Is there a family member or friend nearby that could help with occasional babysitting, or does your gym have a day care?

[See How to Stop Feeling Selfish About 'Me Time']

3. Test your goals. If your goal isn't something you would recommend to your niece or nephew, your child, or your best friend, then it's probably not a good goal for you either. We're often a lot harder on ourselves than we are on others, and hold ourselves to an unrealistic standard, so this can be a good litmus test to see if your goals are realistic.

[See How to Lose 50 Pounds Without Really Trying]

4. Think short term. It's great to have an ultimate end goal, but that can also be daunting. Setting shorter-term goals can help keep you motivated by reaching smaller milestones along the way. Evaluate your goals every couple of weeks and adjust them if needed. Keep in mind that this isn't a sign of failure; when setting health and wellness goals every BODY is different, and sometimes things happen slower or faster than we like.

5. Invest in yourself. Especially when your family starts to grow, it's easy to put your needs on the back burner. Don't be afraid to invest in yourself (to the extent that you can) with a dietitian or trainer. They are experts in their respective fields and can give you the support you need to keep you accountable.

[See Finding Support For Your Health Goals]

I hope you find these tips useful. What are some things you do to stay on track when trying to make lasting changes in your behaviors?

Hungry for more? Write to with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist, helps empower people to build healthy lifestyles. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins University, Scritchfield is a Washington, D.C.-based registered dietitian and fitness expert who encourages clients to find exercise that feels great, learn to manage stress, and establish lifelong eating skills that balance individual nutrition needs with hunger and pleasure. Visit her blog at: