Changing Behavior to Live a Healthy Lifestyle – it’s Hard

Are you still on track with your New Year’s Resolutions? Are you still going to the gym 3-4 times a week like you hoped? Maybe you have fallen off the “bandwagon” or given up on your resolutions. You might be asking yourself, “Why does it feel like changing behavior is so difficult?”. You might think, “I want to be more physically active” or “I want to eat healthier”, but there is something preventing you from staying on track. We all know we should live a healthy lifestyle, but how do we shift our unhealthy behaviors to healthy ones and make them last?

Health behaviors can include proper nutrition, being more physically active, getting enough sleep, managing stress, drinking enough water, and quitting or limiting harmful substances.

Health behaviors can include proper nutrition, being more physically active, getting enough sleep, managing stress, drinking enough water, and quitting or limiting harmful substances.
Credit: Image by Watford Borough Council (

People may find it hard to stay on track for various reasons. Possible reasons include a dislike of the behavior, poor environmental factors such as food choices or access to safe physical activity spaces, setting too big or too many goals, or that consistency is simply difficult. Any variety of reasons may cause you to fall into a lapse of behavior that steers you away from your goals.

What Is A Lapse Versus A Relapse?

  • Lapse: A lapse is a temporary slip into previous behavior. This is very normal, and it tends to be easier to get back on track.
  • Relapse: A relapse is a complete shift and return to original behavior for a long period of time. This may take extra work to get back on track after a long time.

Here Are Some General Tips to Know About Behavior Change

  • Behavior change can be very difficult: Understand that behavior change is a hard process, and lapses are normal. This will help you not be so hard on yourself when something does not go your way.
  • Start small and build gradually: Set S.M.A.R.T. goals, so you can be intentional about what you want to do, when you want to achieve them, and how to make them realistic.
  • Shift thoughts to positive self-talk: Instead of telling yourself that you cannot do something before even trying, shift your inner voice to positive thoughts such as “I feel better when I am active” or “Eating healthy foods I like makes me feel good”.
  • Grab a friend: Have someone else to help support you and commit to change alongside you. This can make change a lot easier and keep you accountable for your goals.
  • Finding change methods that work for you: Create your own personal action plan to fit your schedule and health goals. Behavior change is not a one-size-fits-all formula.
  • Schedule it: By planning ahead what you want to do and when, you are more likely to actually do it when the time comes.
  • Enjoy it: You must enjoy what you’re doing to actually do it. Do not plan to go for a run if you dislike running. There are other physical activity options that you can choose from. Similarly, do not force yourself to eat a salad if you do not like the taste. There are a variety of other tasty vegetables that you may love. Find healthy alternatives you like and pick those!
  • Reward it: Make sure to reward yourself! For example, did you just meet your step goal for the week? Reward yourself by spending a little extra time doing something that you enjoy, like seeing a friend you have not talked to in a while.

More On How to Stick To Behavior Change. Follow The ABC’S

  • Acknowledge
    • The first step is to acknowledge where you are in your journey of behavior change. How ready for change are you? Do you have a gym membership? Have you thought about which gym to go to? Have you scheduled the time you want to go? Understanding what stage of readiness you are in may help to determine your next steps.
  • Be Flexible
    • Next, you must give yourself grace and understand that challenges happen. This is why behavior change can be hard. You might have a family dinner on the night you usually go to a weekly fitness class, so you must miss it. That is okay! Ask yourself how you can be flexible enough to reach your physical activity goal for the week. For example, you may be able to incorporate a 15-minute walk during lunch.
  • Commit
    • Commitment is key to changing any behavior. Why are you making a change? Reminding yourself of your ‘why’ might help you stay committed. Do you want to lose weight? Improve your mental health? Maybe you want to find more community through healthy activities. Whatever your WHY is, commit to it and let that be your driving force in helping you change.
  • Search
    • Behavior change is a dynamic action. It is something that is constantly changing day to day. This can depend on a variety of factors, such as mood, energy levels, your daily schedule, or other outside factors. Searching for new ways to alter your action/change plan will help you stay on track and not fall into a lapse or relapse of change.

No matter what behavior you want to change, remember it can be hard. But also remember that you have the power to control your health. Even when a lapse occurs or you fall back into the same habit for a short amount of time, you have the power to pivot and meet your goals. Every small step is one step closer to reaching your goals!

If you want to find ways to change your health behaviors, try these FREE health education programs:

Health Extension for Diabetes: A diabetes education and support program to improve diabetes self-management and reduce complications through healthy lifestyle change.

Yoga for Every Body & Practical Strength: Virtual physical activity programs to help you feel your best and improve your balance/flexibility and improve strength. Get your daily 30 minutes of activity!

Stirring Up Healthy Recipes: A healthy (diabetes-friendly) cooking class with a live cooking demonstration. This class will give you ideas for easy, cost-effective meals to enjoy with the whole family.

For more information about applying these tips to behaviors you want to change, request: HGIC 4097, Goal Setting; HGIC 4000, 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans; HGIC 4031, Physical Activity for Adults; HGIC 4151, Fluid Needs; and HGIC 4376, Coping with Stress and Mental Health.


  1. Hardesty, L. (2024, February 1). Establishing healthy behaviors that stick. Mayo Clinic Health System.
  2. Hooker, S. A., Punjabi, A., Justesen, K., Boyle, L., & Sherman, M. D. (2018, February 28). Encouraging health behavior change: Eight evidence-based strategies. Family Practice Management.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at or 1-888-656-9988.

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