Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®
Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management
Rutgers Cooperative Extension
As we close out one year and prepare to start the next, many people think about changes that they want to make to their lives, particularly with respect to their health (e.g., losing weight) and finances (e.g., saving money). Thus, it is a good time to revisit the 25 behavior change strategies contained within the Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ (SSHW) program. Each of these behavior change strategies is described in detail at the SSHW website. The SSHW program suggests picking three or four of these strategies to put into practice simultaneously to improve your health and finances. Below is a brief description of each strategy:
- Track Your Current Behavior - Record daily food intake, physical activity, income, and expenses to better understand current behavior practices and to use as a benchmark to measure future progress against.
- Unload Your Childhood Baggage - Identify past negative influences on health and financial behaviors.
- Put Your Mind to It - Use bold declarative phrases to state personal change goals and visualize future success.
- Commit to Making a Change - Identify desired changes, action steps to achieve them, and anticipated obstacles and strategies to overcome them.
- Defy Someone or Defy the Odds - Use a bet with someone or a scary health or financial statistic (e.g., obesity rates, lung cancer deaths, bankruptcy filings) as an incentive to make positive changes.
- Think Balance-Not Sacrifice - Reframe thoughts about “giving up something” to a mindset that emphasizes balancing income and outgo with respect to eating and spending.
- Control Your Destiny - Identify perceptions of how personal behavior influences future outcomes and take steps to achieve success that can be attributed to personal efforts.
- Make Progress Every Day - Use daily affirmations, daily learning activities, and daily action steps to make incremental progress toward health and wealth goals.
- Get Help and Be Accountable - Identify resources for support toward achieving personal goals including friends, family, professional advisors, an employer, and community programs and organizations.
- Meet Yourself Halfway - Pick several foods and beverages and eat or drink half the current portion size. Do the same thing for discretionary household expenses and cut them in half.
- Say “No” to Supersizing - Identify “super-sized” foods eaten (e.g., “value meals”) and items purchased (e.g., buy 3, get one free) and smaller size alternatives that reduce calories (health goal) or cost (wealth goal).
- Convert Consumption Into Labor -Identify how much physical activity time it takes to “work off” a high calorie food or beverage or how many hours of work are needed to earn money to buy specific items.
- Compare Yourself with Recommended Benchmarks - Compare health status with benchmarks for things like BMI, physical activity, and fruit and vegetable consumption and personal finance status with benchmarks such as credit scores, debt-to-income ratios, and emergency fund accumulation.
- Use Easy Frames of Reference - Use common objects (portion size measurement aids) and dollar amounts, respectively, to understand and personally apply health and financial recommendations.
- Automate Good Habits and Create Templates - Create automated routines and template forms to improve health and increase wealth such as meal plans, weight loss programs, payroll savings, and direct deposit.
- Live “The Power of Ten” - Follow recommendations based on the number 10 or multiples thereof such as save 10% of gross income, reduce 100 calories per day, and walk 10,000 step per day.
- Take Calculated Risks and Conquer Your Fears - Identify personal fears related to making positive health and financial changes and strategies to overcome those fears.
- Appreciate Teachable Moments and Wake-Up Calls - Identify situations resulting in a heightened awareness of the need to change health and financial practices and the consequences of not making a change.
- Weigh the Costs and Benefits of Changing - Identify the costs and benefits of changing behavior and not changing.
- Step Down to Change - Identify a series of gradual steps to make health and financial changes. An example is shopping for clothing at an expensive department store, a mid-price retailer, a discount store, and a thrift shop.
- Kick It Up a Notch - Build upon already positive health and financial practices to make them even better.
- Control Your Environment - Identify ways to enhance positive action by restricting certain practices (e.g., holiday spending) and rearranging one’s surroundings. This strategy is often referred to as “stimulus control.”
- Monitor Your Progress and Reward Success - Identify progress indicators and rewards for each progress level.
- Expect Obstacles and Prepare for Relapses - Identify how to handle people or situations that can sabotage success.
- Set a Date and Get Started…Just Do It - Make a firm commitment to take action with clearly defined goals, a firm start or quit date, planned action steps, and/or a personal Behavior Change Contract.