Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP® Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management Rutgers Cooperative Extension
“If it is to be, it is up to me.” This quote says it all about changing personal behavior to improve health and increase wealth. If you want to make a change to improve your life, you must take the first small step to get started and follow up with additional steps necessary to achieve your goals. Nobody else can do this for you…not your spouse, friends, family, employer, or the federal government. Changing behavior to improve your health and wealth requires taking personal responsibility for your actions. Many successful behavior changers describe their ultimate success as stemming from a deep desire to accomplish something and taking the necessary action to reach their goal(s). Others mention the positive influences of other people or the effects of visualizing their future success. The Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ (SSHW) workbook and fact sheet series is a valuable resource to start you on the path to improved health and financial security. Each of its 25 behavior change strategies has been well tested by behavior change researchers or recommended repeatedly by health and financial educators. In addition, each behavior change strategy has a personalized worksheet to help people put it into practice. The SSHW behavior change strategies can be found online at http://njaes.rutgers.edu/sshw/. At the end of the SSHW workbook, there is a worksheet that recaps the 25 behavior change strategies. Readers are instructed to place a check by three or four strategies that they are planning to adopt to improve the health and finances. Since changing behavior is difficult, no one is expected to adopt all 25 behavior change strategies. Select any more than three or four changes and you’ll probably become overwhelmed and give up. Ideally, the behavior change strategies that people select should complement one another. For example, if you Meet Yourself Halfway, you’ll need to think about ways to reduce certain actions (e.g., eating and spending) by half. If you decide to Live “The Power of 10”, you’ll be setting benchmarks that include the number 10 or multiples of 10. With another Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ behavior change strategy called Defy Someone or Defy the Odds, you’ll need to decide what type of defiance can help you meet your health and wealth goals. For example, defy obesity statistics by building physical activity into your daily routine if you have a long commute to work. If you decide to Kick It Up a Notch, you’ll identify current positive behaviors (e.g., saving for retirement in a 401(k) plan) that can be improved upon. Once you’ve identified the behavior change strategies that you plan to adopt, complete the Behavior Change Strategies Worksheet to firm up your plans. This worksheet will help you develop concrete action steps to apply up to four behavior change strategies. For example, eating a 50 calorie slice of bread instead of one with 100 calories to “meet yourself halfway” or saving 5% of your gross income instead of 4% to kick savings up a notch.