There are many of us out there who are looking for a change—to get healthier, go green, become fit, or be happier, or to live an overall better lifestyle. Some changes, especially drastic changes to our current routines or lifestyles will require a bit of work and effort; however, research has shown that there are effective behavioral change theories that could prove beneficial for a successful change in our lives.

One major theory for behavior change is called Nudge Theory. In this theory, you make small changes; some, one at a time and others at the same time but each with the goal to “nudge” you closer to your overall goal. This theory is founded in behavioral science and by making small changes in order to develop better choices. When changing your lifestyle by using the nudge theory, you’ll process each change through three stages—Spark, Signal, and Trigger.

Spark

This is the stage at which you determine your change. This may be where you read an article about how exercise can help reduce your risk for a particular disease and decide, that with your family history, eating healthier and exercising regularly may be extremely helpful in further reducing your risk. Or maybe you come across the ingredient list of the cleaners in your home and the adverse long-term effects exposure can have on you and the environment and want to transform your home into an eco-friendlier place. Or, perhaps, you decide to make a change to be more mindful because the effect your forgetfulness is having on your relationships.

This is where your find your spark, your motivation or desire to make a change.

Signal

Now that you have envisioned your goal and decided to make a change, it is time to start planning how to make your goal a reality. It is important to remember that it is okay, and better in the long run, to not rush this phase. Planning how you will nurture the spark within you will help you to keep the flame alive instead of it fizzling out like your annual new year’s resolution.  Identify which changes you need to make, develop a plan of actions for making those changes, and create a timeline for implementing each phase of your transformation.

Trigger

This is when you launch yourself into your transformation. Pick a date—one that is more meaningful can help to increase your desire to get started. This also provides you with a deadline for your Signal phase. You need to have your plan in place once your Trigger date arrives, so you can jump right into action.

Throughout this process, implement these 12 tips to help make your planning and implementation of changes go more smoothly.

  1. Identify the Behaviors You Want to Change. “Living a healthier lifestyle” is a vague goal. Identify specific behaviors you want to change: poor sleeping habits, lowering stressors, eating habits, activity levels, etc.
  2. One Step at a Time. The hardest part is making a change and forming better habits—and it doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t rush the process, make one small change at a time, each one to “nudge” you in the right direction. Looking to lose weight or be healthier overall? First, identify bad habits and identify what they can be replaced with. Snacking on chips? Stop adding chips to your grocery list and opt for nuts or dried fruit. Then move to the “healthiness” of your main meals, your overall calorie intake, and your activity levels.
  3. Keep it Positive. Don’t see it as giving up something but rather gaining or doing something new. You aren’t losing sleep by waking early, but rather gaining more time to get ready/eat a full breakfast/catch a morning exercise class. You aren’t quitting your job but exploring more beneficial options for greater professional growth. By keeping a more positive mind frame about the changes you are implementing, the more likely you will view the changes to your life as a good thing and keep doing them.
  4. Get Your Equipment. Whatever it is that you will need to make each small change, get it, do it. Download an app, buy a journal, find a life coach or accountability partner, review your resume. Taking the steps in order to prepare for a goal is a necessary part of the Signal phase in order to prepare for your Trigger date.
  5. Write Your Plan/Goal Out. Set it where you will see it every day—on your mirror, your fridge, or front door. A daily reminder of why you are making the changes to your life. Update it as you go to remind yourself how far you have come and where you have left to go.
  6. Record Your Now. Create a record of your changes and the steps you are taking or have achieved to meet your goal. Seeing how far you have come from your initial Spark can help provide motivation, especially as your goal completion nears.
  7. Tag It. We don’t mean hashtags on social media (although you could if you wanted to share your journey with others). Tagging is a psychological method to help you to start and continue a habit by implementing it with a current habit. Put your running shoes by your dog’s leash to help you get in the mindset of taking your dog with you on a jog, not just taking the dog for a walk. Put your car keys next to a reusable water bottle so you take it to work and drink more water throughout the day.
  8. Make it Part of Your Routine. You remember to brush your teeth, because you have done it around the same time, every day, for as long as you can remember. Pick a time to implement a new habit and try to do it (if possible) at the same time every day. Want to get healthier? Take a walk in the evening after dinner each day.
  9. Modify Your Choice Architecture. Studies have shown that people will make a healthier choice if presented with it first or it appears more enticing. Replace the unhealthier snacks in the fridge or pantry with healthier ones, make a game of a chore, or set a reminder to complete a task with a favorite song as the alarm. By modifying your choice architecture, you are making the effort to keep your changes positive and reducing the risk of falling back into poor habits.
  10. Reward Yourself. A great way to help make your transformation a positive one, is to reward yourself when you achieve a small goal—like making a small improvement to your routine. Have you been walking your dog every day for a week? Have you significantly reduced or stopped your energy drink habit? Reward yourself! Schedule a spa day, buy a new shirt, or take yourself to the movies. Rewards don’t have to wait until the end and can be great motivators to help keep you going until your transformation is complete.