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Change a Habit by Setting Goals

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If you've decided to change a habit—whether it's quitting smoking, lowering your blood pressure, becoming more active, or doing something else to improve your health—congratulations! Making that decision is the first step toward making a change.

1. Have your own reason

Your reason for wanting to change a habit is really important. Maybe you want to quit smoking so that you can avoid future health problems. Or maybe you want to eat a healthier diet so you can lose weight. If you have high blood pressure, your reason may be clear: to lower your blood pressure.

You need to feel ready to make a change. If you don't feel ready now, that's okay. You can still be thinking and planning. When you truly want to make changes, you're ready for the next step.

It's not easy to change habits. But taking the time to really think about what will motivate or inspire you will help you reach your goals.

2. Set goals you can reach

When you are clear about your reasons for wanting to make a change, it's time to set your goals.

  • Long-term goals: These are large goals that you want to reach in 6 to 12 months.
  • Short-term goals: What are the short-term goals that will help you reach your long-term goals? Short-term goals are the small steps you take, week by week, to improve your health.
  • Updated goals: To help you stay motivated, track your progress and update your goals as you move forward.

Try these tips for setting goals:

  • Focus on small goals. This will help you reach larger goals over time. With smaller goals, you'll have success more often, which will help you stay with it.
  • Write down your goals. This will help you remember, and you'll have a clearer idea of what you want to achieve. Use a personal action plan(What is a PDF document?) to record your goals. Hang up your plan where you will see it often as a reminder of what you're trying to do.
  • Make your goals specific. Specific goals help you measure your progress. For example, setting a goal to eat 5 helpings of fruits and vegetables 5 days a week is better than a general goal to "eat more vegetables."
  • Focus on one goal at a time. By doing this, you're less likely to feel overwhelmed and then give up.
  • When you reach a goal, reward yourself. Celebrate your new behavior and success for several days and then think about setting your next goal.

3. Prepare for slip-ups

It's perfectly normal to try to change a habit, go along fine for a while, and then have a setback. Lots of people try and try again before they reach their goals.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 25, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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