If you're trying to make a healthy change in your life, good intentions matter. But how do you turn them into reality—and make those new habits stick?
Whatever goal you're trying to accomplish, these 10 steps from the National Institutes of Health and other experts can help set you up for success:
1. Break it down. Divide big or vague goals like "I will eat better" into doable, specific ones like "I'll take a healthy lunch to work instead of grabbing fast food."
2. Be single-minded. You may have a lot you want to accomplish, but trying to do it all at once is an easy way to get overwhelmed. Rather than tackling too much too soon, change one behavior at a time. Once that sticks, take another, manageable step toward your goal.
3. Talk it up. Share your goals with family, friends and co-workers you can count on for support. Think of it this way: You'll help them avoid accidentally sabotaging your progress—and you'll recruit built-in cheerleaders who can help celebrate your success.
4. Find a buddy. Someone with similar goals can help you stay on track. You might pair up with an exercise pal for regular gym dates or take coffee breaks with a co-worker who's also trying to quit smoking. Having trouble finding like-minded people? Then look for a support group that meets nearby, or connect with an online group via message boards.
5. Remind yourself why you want it. Concentrate on how this change will make your life better in ways that matter to you. You might even post notes of encouragement someplace you'll see them every day, like your bathroom mirror.
6. Track your progress. Seeing how far you've come can be a real source of inspiration. So stay on top of your accomplishments with a journal, app or other device.
7. Disrupt unhealthy patterns. Look for habits that come between you and your goal, and substitute new ones. For instance, if you tend to nibble in front of the TV, keep your hands busy with another activity, like doodling or knitting.
8. Be ready for temptation. Decide in advance how you'll cope with situations that tend to test your willpower. For instance, if you're trying to drink less, meet up with your friends at a coffee shop or park instead of a bar. Or if you tend to talk yourself out of evening workouts, change into your gym clothes as soon as you get home.
9. Reward yourself. Celebrate milestones with little gifts to yourself. Just keep it healthy with rewards such as a massage, fresh flowers or downtime with your favorite magazine.
10. Don't let slip-ups derail you. Change takes time. And it's rarely straightforward. If you lose ground, don't beat yourself up. Imagine how you might encourage a friend in your situation. Then think of what went wrong and how to make a better choice next time.