Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®
Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management
Rutgers Cooperative Extension
Want to improve your health and/or personal finances or encourage others to do so? Successful outcomes will probably require behavior change, which is never easy. This month’s SSHW message presents strategies to motivate yourself or others to take positive action. Many of these ideas are related to the 25 behavior change strategies found in the Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ workbook. Want to be healthy and wealthy? It’s all about setting small-step goals, framing choices, and providing information, rewards, and support when needed. Consider the following ideas:
- Make the Time -Develop effective strategies to overcome “lack of time” as an excuse for not taking action to improve your health and/or personal finances. An example is identifying three 15-minute “time chunks” for physical activity or setting aside one hour every weekend for various financial management tasks.
- “Weight Watchers Model” – Consider combining individual activity with peer support provided by groups such as weight loss support groups, investment clubs, and community organizations.
- Take Small Steps - Adopt small steps, such as reducing 100 calories per day and saving a dollar a day plus pocket change, to reduce frustration and increase confidence. People often “fail and bail” when they attempt to tick off a long “to do” list with lofty and unattainable goals.
- Celebrate Progress - Mark the achievement of small mini-goals as you make progress toward a larger goal. For example, treat yourself to a $50 gift card for every 5 pounds of weight loss or $1,000 of savings.
- Be Generous with Praise - Tell other people who are adopting positive behaviors when they are doing a good job and are on the right track to reaching their health and/or financial goals.
- “A Christmas Carol”Approach – “Fast forward” someone’s life (i.e., describe a bad future outcome if no change is made to improve their current health or financial practices). Seeing our “future self” often prompts positive action.
- Put “Regulation” Around Your Life - Consider implementing regulated behaviors such as automated investment plans, payroll deductions, and portion-controlled meals with calorie counts.
- Identify Smart Choices - Avoid getting stuck in a health or financial “rut” by considering alternatives to current thoughts and/or actions. An example is using a meal planning or budgeting phone app to make decisions about what to eat or purchase.
- Decide to Decide - Set a deadline to make a decision to improve your health and/or finances. You do not necessarily have to start taking action at this point, but just decide what to do.
- Identify Three Good Choices - Identify three viable action strategies, any of which would be effective. A health example is cold turkey, a patch, or a smoking cessation drug such as Zyban to quit smoking. A financial example is identifying one of three acceptable growth mutual funds to include in a retirement savings account.
- Address Obstacles - Identify and develop work-arounds for barriers such as lack of time for exercise and poor spending habits that make it hard to save money.
- Commit Now to Change Later - Take action today to make a change in the future. An example is “auto-escalation” in employer retirement savings plans where workers authorize a future savings increase when they receive a raise.
- Use “Self-Control” Devices - Limit spending and over-eating with tools such as debit cards and calorie-controlled meals. Other helpful tools are online credit card interest calculators and calorie counts on restaurant menus.
- Emulate Role Models - Learn from the personal stories of people who have successfully achieved their health and wealth goals. Success stories are inspirational and put a “face” on positive behaviors.