Shelby Spears by Shelby Spears
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If turning your health and fitness goals into reality feels overwhelming, you’re not alone.

Reaching any goal requires you to make changes. And asking yourself to alter habits or behaviors that you have cultivated over your lifetime, whether intentionally or subconsciously through repetition, is a tall order.

Health professionals and researchers have long been trying to unlock the mystery of behavior change to help people improve their health and fitness, and they have uncovered several methods of behavior change you can use to take small, achievable steps that will lead you to success.

A common misconception about behavior change is that the process is going to be difficult, but the results will come quickly. In reality, the success lies in making small, achievable changes over a long period of time, creating healthy habits that last.

To adopt healthy behaviors—eat healthy, exercise daily, sleep well and manage stress—you must have patience and do what you can to make it fun.

The American Council on Exercise has spent years diving into the latest behavior-change research to ensure its personal trainers, health coaches and other exercise professionals are using the tools that make the most sense for these modern times. You can use these methods in your own life to start taking small, yet impactful steps toward better health and fitness.

3 Easy Ways to Start Changing Your Behavior

Positive Psychology

“Positive psychology,” explain researchers, “is the scientific study of valued subjective experiences: well-being, contentment, and satisfaction (in the past); hope and optimism (for the future); and flow and happiness (in the present).” This behavior-change method encourages you to focus on your strengths rather than on your deficits. Look for opportunities to create a strengths-based, forward-looking, and supportive environment that helps enrich a meaningful behavior change journey rather than trying to fix what is wrong with you. This method has a lot to do with mindset, which is a significant component of any behavior-change effort. You cannot separate your brain from your body, so doing the mental work is equally as important as physically moving your body.

Try this: Start a gratitude journal.

Quite possibly one of the most effective forms of positive psychology is gratitude journaling, which is simply appreciating what you have. In the morning before you get on your phone or turn on the news, sit down with a piece of paper and a pen and write down three things you are grateful for. This can be anything from clean air or a sunny day to the cup of coffee you’re drinking as you write. You could also take a mindful walk through nature, stopping to appreciate the sights and sounds.

Self-Determination Theory

Also known as the theory of human motivation, this method focuses on your potential and desire as a human to grow and connect. Of all the things that will help you change your health- and exercise-related behaviors, community might be the most powerful. Competence (feeling like you’ve done a good job), autonomy (owning your changes) and relatedness (the power of community and connecting with others) are the bedrocks of this theory.

Try this: Find a workout buddy. Join a walking club or get a family member or friend to join you in your efforts to be more active. on this mission of making positive changes. See how the accountability of another person increases your motivation and determination.

SMART Goals

Having a goal is important, but making sure it is a SMART goal—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound—has been shown to lead to greater success.

Try this: Create a SMART Goal. If you want to become a faster, fitter walker, for example, consider signing up for a walking event. This goal is specific (how many miles you’ll walk), attainable (start with a realistic mileage, depending on your current fitness level), relevant (walking is something most people find enjoyable, and training for this event will help make progress toward the goal) and time-bound (the date of the event gives you a set target to aim for when training). This same process can be used with a wide range of goals, including losing weight, increasing strength or improving your diet. The key is to make sure that your goal includes all the elements of a SMART goal so you end up with a specific plan rather than a vague idea of what you need to do to achieve it.

Change is not easy and it takes time. Don’t underestimate the power of a good mindset, be curious about this process and have fun with your journey.

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