Four Simple Steps to Making Healthful Changes In Your Life

Image of apple and hamburger on scales

Choose wisely . . .

You know you need to do It.

Tons of people have told you about It’s importance in your life. How It will make you feel better. Reduce your pain. Improve your sleep. Give you more energy. Help you lay off the meds.

And yet …

You haven’t done It. Because whatever “it” is for you, doing “it” is a whole lot easier said than done.

Whether we’re talking about eating more healthfully (or eating differently, even), laying off the alcohol, quitting smoking, starting an appropriate and gentle exercise routine, or any other major lifestyle change – well, change is hard, Dolls.

But there’s a simple (note: I did not write easy) way to make It easier. Four simple steps that can help you knock that change out of the park and straight into Habitville, regardless of what “it” is.

Overview of the 4-Step Process to Breaking Bad Habits and Creating Good Ones

In a nutshell, here’s what you do:

  1. Get Clear on Your Reasons
  2. Retrain Your Thoughts
  3. Enlist Your Army of Support
  4. Focus on the Positive

Let’s take a closer look at each step, shall we?

One: Get Clear On Your Reasons

Before you set a quit date – before you clean out your ashtrays – before you go grocery shopping for veggies and fruits – before you buy one single exercise DVD – before you do anything else, you need to sit yourself down with a pen and piece of paper, and write out every single reason you’ve got for making this change.

Cautionary Note: Use pen and paper! The act of handwriting, for some reason, seems to make the process “stick” better with you, emotionally and mentally. Forget the computer for this one. You want a handwritten list you can actually carry around with you.

Be specific, too. Let’s say you need to quit smoking (you do, you know). Don’t just write down “it’s too expensive.” Write down ALL THE THINGS that you want but can’t afford because of that $5 a day habit.

Get emotional about it. These reasons must be meaningful to be effective. When I quit smoking years ago, I wrote down “I don’t want my daughter to be standing at my funeral and hear some bitch whisper ‘Well, you know, she smoked…’” If you don’t think that will grab your heart and rip into a million pieces quite effectively … well, just trust me. It worked.

Aim for quantity AND quality. Seriously, five pages isn’t too many. Just make them important to you.

Two: Retrain Your Thoughts

This one’s tougher than the previous step. It takes consistent effort to change your thoughts and make that new way of thinking habitual. At first, you’ll need to rely on a prepared script.

Actually, that’s not a bad idea – literally. Write down the new thoughts and carry them with you. You can even riff off your reasons list.

But first, an example. Let’s go back to the smoking cessation thing. Now, normally, when someone tries to quit smoking, they view the subsequent cravings with dread. “Oh, geez,” they’ll think, “not another craving. When will these stupid cravings END?!” And they’ll get upset. Which makes them stressed. Which makes them want a … you guessed it: a cigarette.

Here’s what you do instead: reframe your thinking. When a craving for the thing you’re giving up hits, physically change your position and then change your thoughts. Tell yourself something different – something positive.

What I did when I quit smoking: “Here comes a craving! Yay! I wouldn’t be having a craving if I hadn’t quit smoking. Instead, I’d be smoking. So the fact that I’m having a craving means it’s WORKING! YAY!”

Yes, you’ll feel like an idiot. No, I don’t care. It works. Do it.

Three: Enlist Your Army of Support

You need help. We all do. You’re going to face a boatload of temptation, and you need people around you to shore you up when your defenses are weakened (and they will be, because – and I hate to be the one to break it to you – you’re human).

So start with the people around you. Announce the change. Tell them straight up what you need. “Mommy’s going to be eating more healthfully. So I need for you to stop offering me your Easter candy and leftover desserts, OK? I really appreciate your thoughtfulness, but let’s find other ways to show Mommy you love her, ‘kay?”

“No, honey, I do NOT want a drink, and you need to stop offering them to me or I will divorce you immediately and run away with Javier Bardem. Got it?”

Like that.

Also, don’t forget online support groups! The QuitNet boards were my saving grace when I quit smoking. There are lots of options for just about every single change you could possibly want to make, so look for them, find one that feels good, and join. Then participate in it.

Four: Focus on the Positive

Here’s what I’d consider the most crucial step, and it’s all built on a sordid little truth about human nature:

We really hate to give up stuff we like.

If you focus on what you’re not doing – what you’re giving up – your brain will inevitably rebel. Maybe not at first, but it will happen, and it will leave you feeling about one inch tall with zero willpower.

But it’s just human nature. So, what we have to do if we want to successfully stop doing something that’s bad for us is switch it around and reframe the whole experience as a positive thing.

Not just “positive” in terms of “it’s good for me” – but “positive” as in “what’s IN IT for me?”

So, I’m not quitting smoking: I’m gaining better breathing. (Also: the ability to wear expensive scarves without worrying about burning a hole in ‘em…)

I’m not quitting overeating: I’m gaining a more rockin’ body.

I’m not giving up alcohol: I’m gaining a kick-ass brain (and liver).

OK, you get the picture.

Now, go change your life!

3 thoughts on “Four Simple Steps to Making Healthful Changes In Your Life

  1. Chronic Chick Talk

    Hi There,
    You’ve made a lot of good points here. I understand the whole concept of writing things down. I used to be really lax with housework not that my home looked like it needed a intervention thanks to constant pain. Just clutter here and there. I’ve been going through my drawers and organizing them. Making a point of picking up before I go to bed. Their is nothing more depressing than a messy living room when your mornings feel like the local truck stop took a U-turn to park on your body. It’s helped me feel like I’ve accomplished something, even if I do overdue things all the time. My family has to keep me in check about overdue things.

    1. Annie Post author

      Hey, thanks for commenting! I know exactly what you’re talking about — it’s a problem for me, too. I’ve always been one of those people more comfortable with long stretches of intense work as opposed to shorter, more consistent efforts. Good for writing – not so great for housework. It’s taken quite a bit of attention to keep up with things so I don’t face the situation where the house is a wreck and I’m having a flare-up. One piece of advice I received a long time ago about those times when the roof is metaphorically caving in on me and I feel overwhelmed continues to help me greatly: Make a list of everything weighing you down that needs doing, find the easiest thing on that list, and do it, then scratch it off. Lather, rinse, repeat.


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