This article originally appeared in the U.S. News and World Report on August 17, 2020.
What Is Behavior Change, and Why Is It So Important?
A successful lifestyle behavior-change journey begins with that first, small step.
Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., Contributor
WHEN IT COMES TO improving their health and wellness, most people know what they should be doing. They understand the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and have the desire to make the necessary changes. Unfortunately, there’s a disconnect between their intentions and their actual behavior.
And that is where behavior change comes in.
It seems so easy. You figure out what behaviors would improve your health and then you develop plans to make those changes and progress toward your goals. You modify your lifestyle as planned and become healthier as a result – simple!
In practice, however, changing your lifestyle is often a complicated challenge, as your behaviors are shaped by countless factors, including your friends, family, geographic location, culture, socioeconomic status, life experiences, current health status and work.
Impact of Unhealthy Habits on Disease
To understand why behavior change is so important, let’s take a look at the prevalence of disease in our society and the impact that unhealthy lifestyle habits have on those conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in two people in the United States have at least one chronic health condition – such as heart disease, cancer, hypertension, diabetes and obesity – and about one in four people have two or more chronic diseases.
To bring this back to the individual level, consider the fact that the key risk factors for chronic disease include:
- Tobacco use.
- Poor nutrition.
- Lack of physical activity.
- Excessive alcohol use.
Making behavior changes in any of these areas – no matter how small or incremental the changes may be – can have a tremendous impact on your long-term health and wellness. Every healthy choice matters.
The First Step to Change
To make lasting behavior changes, eliminate any all-or-nothing thinking and start with a change that is manageable and easily measured. As a good friend of mine frequently says, “ordinary things done daily produce extraordinary results.” A successful lifestyle behavior-change journey begins with that first, small step.
For example, imagine that your long-term goal is to walk for 30 minutes each day on your lunch break. You can start by walking for 10 minutes each day in order to establish the habit. You might want to ask family members or coworkers if they’re interested in joining you, as that type of social support can be very helpful in sticking with a routine. You might also want to imagine things that could get in the way of your success. Perhaps you have meetings that conflict on some days, or maybe you are working from home and have to make lunch for your kids each day.
Get creative in overcoming those obstacles so that your daily walk fits seamlessly into your routine, and always remember that working to improve your personal health and wellness is a worthwhile and valuable pursuit.