Can a Leopard Really Change its Spots? Yes! You, Too, Can BREAK IT!

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Can a Leopard Really Change its Spots? Yes! You, Too, Can BREAK IT!

The mistake most people make when they make their New Year’s resolutions is thinking change is simply about willpower. People believe they can make a resolution and just resolve to “make it happen,” when in fact, it’s nearly impossible to effect real and lasting change in your life through sheer force of will. In order to make fundamental, long-term changes in your life, there are very specific steps and guidelines that, when properly implemented, can significantly increase your likelihood of success. Below are a few of the sound, tested, easy-to-follow behavioral principles that can help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions, along with Internet addresses for past columns that will be your “how-to guide” for breaking your negative patterns: Just remember the acronym BREAK IT!

B ACKWARD. Review your past patterns. Taking a careful look at your past can help you determine where you want to go in the future, and it helps you avoid repeating harmful patterns. The past may be behind you, but thinking about and analyzing what happened is the key to your dieting future. Keep an open mind. Think of the strategies that didn’t work in your previous attempts to lose . By looking at your failures, you learn what NOT to repeat. You probably learned something from every you’ve been on. It’s up to you to find out what you gained from all that hard work. Read how to become your own Diet Detective.

R ESPONSIBLE. Create a responsible attitude right now; recognize that you are the only one who can make something happen in your life. People love to blame. We blame situations, circumstances, events and even ourselves for where we are in our lives. Blame allows us to avoid taking a necessary action. It excuses us from acting responsibly. In terms of diet, it allows us to avoid focusing on controlling our weight because there’s nothing we can do about it. Keep in mind, however, that one of the key characteristics of all successful weight-losers is their ability to avoid blaming and accept responsibility for whatever failures or setbacks trip them up along the road. Keep this concept close to you when you attempt your next weight-loss campaign: We may not be fully responsible for every event in our lives; accidents do happen, both lucky and unlucky ones. However, we are solely responsible for how we respond to those events and how we allow them to shape us. Many of our own patterns ­ which we do control ­ bring us opportunity, success and failure. See: The Blame Game: How “Anti-Responsible” Behavior Might be Hindering Your Weight Control.

E LEVATE. Pull yourself up by setting goals. According to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, good goal setting and goal planning increase your chances of “making and maintaining improvements in nutrition-related behaviors” by 84 percent. But why should that surprise you? Most of life ­ even figuring out the best route from the dry cleaners to the post office to the supermarket when you’re running errands ­ requires some planning. We have no problem coming up with detailed strategies when planning an event like a wedding. In fact, we obsess over every detail ­ the band, location, dress, tux and caterer. But when it comes to losing weight, we may think about it, but we don’t give it a fraction of the strategic passion it deserves. There are seven characteristics of effective planning and goal setting that you can remember with the acronym SMARTER: Specific; Motivating; Achievable; Rewarding; Tactical; Evaluated; Revisable. Find out how to get smarter and put your goals into action with the “Get Back on the Diet Track” planning guide

A CTION. Develop an action plan by thinking ahead. When pursuing a goal, it is crucial to have a well-thought-out, written plan. You can minimize crises by anticipating obstacles and planning for how you will surmount them. And keep in mind, great things are not achieved by impulse but by a series of small things ­ micro-choices ­ that add up. Micro-choices are the ones we make in the moment. For instance, whether we choose to eat an apple or a slice of apple pie, whether we bike to work or take the car. It’s those micro-choices that make up our lives — learn more about micro-choices. Also, confidence is critical for taking action: In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that as self-efficacy improved, eating habits also improved and weight loss was greater. Learn how to get The Confidence to Lose.

K NOCK OUT. Knock out your excuses with excuse busting. Come up with Excuse Busters and Plan Bs. Punch holes in your excuses until they are no longer airtight. Do this by coming up with counterarguments for every single excuse you may have for NOT achieving your goals. Learn how to stop making excuses.

I MAGINE. Create “Life Preservers” that will help you lose weight for good. Researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands reported that those who believed they could control their eating and didn’t blame being overweight on “bad genes” lost the most weight. It’s called “visualization,” ­an imagined, meaningful, detailed vision of your life after you’ve reached your goal weight; a specific moment in time. It was a hot topic during the last Olympics ­an athlete having a “vision” of crossing the finish line and winning the race before starting the event. I call these visions “Life Preservers.” Think of every emotional and physical detail of these future moments and reflect on them to help you get through the tough times or when you feel that you’re losing sight of your goal. For example, if weight loss is your goal, imagine a thinner, healthier you running into your ex at the mall. To learn how to create your own “Life Preservers” see Think and Lose Weight.

Another key tactic is using Mental Rehearsal. Almost all world-class athletes practice mental rehearsal. Haven’t you ever heard the expression “practice makes perfect”? The concept is to rehearse an upcoming event, but not on the field ­ in your mind. By doing that you trick your brain into having an experience you didn’t actually have. You need to rehearse your eating behaviors and choices before they take place ­ before you eat at your favorite restaurant, before you go into the office knowing that it’s “doughnut Friday.” To learn more about Mental Rehearsal see Weight-Loss Lessons from Olympians.

T ODAY. Don’t delay. Part of making any behavioral change is actually getting started and putting your plan in motion. Start right now!

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