The Secret Behind Successful Behavior Change

SBM: the-secret-behind-successful-behavior-change

Paul Branscum, PhD, RD; Associate Professor, Miami University Department of Kinesiology and Health

Losing weight, breaking bad habits like smoking, and running 5Ks are long-term goals that can only really happen if we change certain short-term behaviors. This is the biggest obstacle for people wanting to make a healthy lifestyle change. They get focused on the long-term outcomes, like losing weight, but they don’t focus enough on the fact that to achieve this, they need to change their day-to-day behaviors.

The ACT2 method is a great way to achieve long-term behavior change. The following outlines the ACT2 method and how it can be used to achieve the long-term goal of losing weight.

What is the ACT2 Method?

The ACT2 method helps you maintain healthy habits by breaking your long-term health goals into actionable day-to-day behaviors.

A stands for Action – What action are you going to take? Does it have something to do with shopping, cooking, walking, eating, taking medications, etc?

C stands for Context – Is the behavior supposed to happen under a specific context or situation? Does it mean shopping at the grocery store? Cooking at home? Walking in the neighborhood?

The first T stands for Target – What is the target for the action? What are you shopping for? What are you cooking? What are you eating?

The second T stands for Time-Frame – When is the behavior supposed to be accomplished? OR how long is the behavior supposed to last? Shopping during the weekend? Walking for 30 minutes? Taking medications every day?

You can use the following process to create your day-to-day behavior goals through the ACT2 method.

Step 1: List Broad Behaviors

In the example of losing weight we can start with two broad behaviors: diet and exercise. Your broad behavior goals may be:

  • I want to eat no more than 1800 Calories per day
  • I want to exercise at least 60 minutes a day, 5 days a week

Even though these actions may seem specific, these behaviors are actually made up of many different changes to your actions.

Step 2: Breakdown Broad Behaviors into manageable sub-behaviors.

If your goal is to eat no more than 1800 Calories per day, think about the actions you need to take to achieve that goal. These may include:

  • “I want to eat a serving of vegetables at dinner every night”
  • “I want to stop eating dessert after my meals”
  • “I want to pack healthy lunches for work, instead of going out to eat”

You might have to even break these sub-behaviors down into even smaller sub-sub-behaviors.

  • I want to eat no more than 1800 Calories per day
    • “I want to eat a serving of vegetables at dinner every night”
      •  “I want to cook different vegetable dishes each night so I don’t get bored of eating the same thing over and over"
      •  “I want to buy more fresh and frozen vegetables at the grocery store”
    • "I want to stop eating dessert after my meals”
      • “I want to tell my family that I’m no longer eating desserts after my meals"
      • “I want to rearrange my pantry so if there are tempting foods there, they are hidden”
    • “I want to pack healthy lunches for work, instead of going out to eat”
      • “I want to cook extra at dinners so I can have left-overs for lunch the next day”
      • “I want to taste different healthy food options I could have for lunch”

This task can be repeated until you feel that you have uncovered behaviors that are critical to your success.

Step 3: Ask yourself ‘which behavior (or which few behaviors) do I want to start with’.

In this example there are 3 sub-behaviors for each action, and for each of these there are 2 sub-sub-behaviors. You shouldn’t try changing them all at once, because it can be overwhelming to make so many changes. Choose one or two to change at first, and as those changes become more routine and habitual, go on to the next behavior.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that many of us want to improve our health, but we don’t think about it in terms of the specific behaviors needed to do so. Next time you think about changing your health, try to remember ‘How do I want to ACT2’?


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