If you want to make positive changes in your life, try building on a lesson many of us learned in 2020: take responsibility.
The concept of responsibility – with you and with others – was an important part of pandemic life. To prevent the virus from spreading, we had to wear a mask, limit our contacts and keep our distance.
But responsibility can also help you achieve health goals. Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before, a book about building healthy habits, says responsibility is an important tool for creating and breaking habits.
Responsibility works best when it comes from outside. You can create responsibility by talking to a friend about healthy eating every day. You are more likely to work out if you have a walking plan with a friend or planning to work out with a personal trainer. You can create public responsibility by stating your intent on social media.
If you prefer to be accountable only in front of your own eyes, you can create accountability by using an app that sends you daily reminders, or using a Fitbit or smartwatch to track your exercise habits. Even taking responsibility for yourself through a journal.
"We'll do better if someone looks at us," said Rubin. "Even if we watch!"
A 2018 study by North Carolina State University of 704 people who participated in a 15-week online weight loss program found that participants who relied on their peers lost more weight and inches from their waists than those who took the Course without the assistance of a friend.
So for today's Well Challenge, think about a health goal that you want to achieve and focus on how to take responsibility. I have attached a few suggestions.
Create an accountability plan
What is your goal for 2021? Do you want to improve your eating habits, lose weight or do more exercise? Or do you just want to finish the script you were working on? Getting help is more likely to make you successful.
Find a partner in charge. Pick a friend who wants to achieve a similar goal and come up with a plan together. Accountability can mean going for a walk once or twice a week. Or it could be a daily text contact to see how your diet is going or a call from Zoom to work together on a cleaning and organizing project.
"Some people are very responsible to themselves, but not most," said Tim Church, a noted obesity and exercise expert and medical director of Naturally Slim, an app-based behavioral health program in Dallas. "In my years of working with thousands of people, there is one thing that drives responsibility more than any other: If you want people to repeat a behavior over and over, get a friend."
While the presence of a stewardship increases peer pressure, the key is to focus on behavior, not success or failure. For example, when a person is trying to lose weight, don't focus on the scales. Instead, give her a call and remind her to keep a record of what she ate, encourage her to eat more fruits and vegetables, and remind her of the benefits of weighing yourself regularly (but you don't have to ask about the result ). If you feel very guilty about eating two desserts, talk about what might be causing this attack emotionally.
"A responsibility partner is there to support you, solve problems and celebrate small victories," said Church. Criticism is the quickest way to destroy all of this. People are very tough on themselves. You don't have to be tough on them. "
Use a technology platform. An app is a great way to add accountability to your day. Meditation apps like Headspace and Calm will send you daily reminders and record your progress. The Noom Weight Loss App asks you to sign up for a few minutes each day, take mini health classes, and keep track of what you've eaten. The Fitbit app counts your steps, syncs with your smart scale, and vibrates to remind you to get up and move.
Set reminders. Once you've set a health goal for yourself, take responsibility by creating calendar reminders to help you meet it. Plan daily or weekly walks or check-ups with your responsible partner.
Advertise on social media. If you tell your friends on social media that you are reducing the amount of packaged food you eat, or tweeted every time you finish a class on your stationary bike, it creates virtual accountability. Make a commitment to post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any other platform every time you achieve a goal, or share your feelings on days when you have trouble achieving those goals. By posting your goals on social media, you are likely to find a like-minded friend willing to join your journey and say supportive words.
Tara Parker-Pope is the founding editor of Well, the New York Times' award-winning consumer health website. She won an Emmy in 2013 for the video series Life, Interrupted, and is the author of For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage. @ Taraparkerpope