The science of change

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Healthy You: Activity, Minds, Bodies, Habits

In changing times, set small goals

When the pandemic started, we thought we just needed to get through it. This too shall pass, right? And yet, here we are, still waiting for it to pass, while so many things change around us — and within us. Jobs. Relationships. Everyday life. Even our climate.


We are truly living in a broad climate of change, and it can keep us from taking steps forward. However, pursuing a goal that has meaning to us can make us feel better both physically and mentally. It can also give us some control during a time of uncertainty and constant change. In short, goals remind us of our power to take control and make effective change.


If, however, you can’t imagine setting a goal right now when setting the table may be a challenge, no worries. There’s no pressure here -- just support. This final quarter of our year-long Healthy You in 2022 initiative spotlights the science of change and breaks down goal setting into small steps. Don’t worry how far you get, or if it’s just food for thought for now. If you think it would be helpful, consider asking a loved one, therapist, or another trusted person to help you take the first step.


Baby Steps

The science of change


Habits, according to Merriam Webster, are usual manners of behavior. These are the things we do day in, day out. We have so many habits each day that we don’t even think about them; they are literally hard-wired into our brains.


Studies show that we can change our habits, thanks to the brain’s incredible ability to reorganize itself by making new neural connections. Typically, this takes an average of 66 days, according to a study at University College London, but it could vary from 21 days to more than 200, so be patient with yourself. People are different, and some habits are harder to change than others.


Tools exist to help: A growing number of apps can provide daily guidance, support and incentives to keep going. If nothing else, you may not want to ruin your day-count streak!


Tap in

Triggers, routine and reward


Changing a habit requires changing the trigger, routine and reward related to that habit. For instance, let’s say stopping for gas on the way home from work triggers you to buy candy that you then enjoy eating in the car, but you want to change this habit to be healthier. After reviewing your habit, you realize you are buying the candy because you feel hungry on the drive home. Also, the gas station you stop at requires you to pay inside, by the candies.


You might:


  • Change the trigger by stopping at a different gas station, or by using a different means of transportation such as riding a bike or taking the bus;

  • Change the routine by packing a protein bar or fruit to have instead of candy;

  • Change the reward by enjoying the healthier snack;

  • Repeat, with changes, until you find a routine and reward that works! For instance, if you were eating the candy more out of boredom than hunger, maybe your winning routine will involve playing a favorite song (or the theme from Rocky, for motivation).


Basics of healthy living, as we’ve been sharing all year, include daily physical activity, mental wellness, healthy food, adequate sleep, regular doctor visits and specialized care when needed. Even if your circumstances require bigger changes, why not choose a small goal? That way you can enjoy success as quickly as possible — like today! That success may energize you for more involved changes, or it may be your big achievement of 2022 — and that’s worth celebrating, too.


Choose Change

11 steps to form new habits


If that’s enough for now, then see you on social media! If you’d like a little overview of what we’re covering there this quarter, see our quick outline below.  It’s a summary of frequently recommended steps that you may find helps you. Want more? Check out these suggestions from Charles Duhigg, the author of a book titled The Power of Habit. Visit the goal-setting page on our Healthy You in 2022 website for some additional suggestions.


  1. Reflect on what you may want to change in your daily life.

  2. Decide you are willing to make a change.

  3. Set a goal.

  4. Create a supportive environment.

  5. Identify a reward that has meaning to you.

  6. Prepare for the possibility of a relapse.

  7. Schedule the action — and then do it.

  8. Celebrate small successes.

  9. Encourage others (which also encourages you).

  10. Look back at how far you’ve come.

  11. Establish a new goal that builds on the first one!


Focus on Goals

Tips, resources and your advice


Join us on  Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as we share science-based findings about goal-setting, shine a light on people pursuing and achieving their goals, and provide our final tips for Healthy You in 2022 — and beyond.


If you’ve made healthy changes this year, please share your tips on our social media in the comments, or in a new post with the hashtag #HealthyYou2022. We’re all learning from each other, especially now.