The key to making changes is developing healthy habits that stick. The change should become a bit that you do every day without thinking, like brushing your teeth. Here are seven tips for planning a change.

1. Set a goal

Your health-care team can help you decide which lifestyle changes would have the greatest impact on your overall health and the risk of another stroke. Make sure it is a change that you feel confident you can achieve.

Choose one goal that you can achieve in a short period. For example, “I will walk around the block once a day for a week.” Make the goal specific and realistic. Set yourself up to succeed!

I always make short-term, easy goals so I can succeed. Long-term goals can be discouraging.

Your goal should also be something you can measure, so that you will know you achieved it. For instance, “I will eat seven servings of vegetables and fruit each day.” Instead of “I will try to eat more vegetables and fruit.”

2. Figure out how you will achieve your goal

Planning how you will achieve your goal is one of the most important steps to success. Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to reach my goal?”

Make a plan that sets out specific steps to success. For example, if your goal is to eat seven servings of vegetables and fruit every day, you could break it down this way:

How often do I eat fruit now?

I only eat four pieces a week. I will need to add three to reach my goal.

Ideas to add fruit every day

  • Stock the fruits I like in the kitchen.
  • Don’t get stuck on fresh fruit. Try unsweetened dried fruit, canned fruit (packed in water) or frozen fruit. 
  • Pair fruit with another food I like – cheese, nut butter or yoghurt.

What I can do to make it happen

  • Plan my meals and snacks for the week.
  • Shop with a list that includes extra fruit and vegetables.
  • Wash and cut up fruits and vegetables ahead of time.
  • Keep track of the fruit and vegetables I eat each day.
  • If I have a setback, check my goal. If I have to change it, maybe try every other day for a week.
3. Prepare for obstacles

Try to think ahead about the challenges you might face. Develop a plan to meet them. For instance, you may have to miss a morning walk if you have a doctor’s appointment. Plan to walk after lunch or dinner instead.

4. Get support

Ask family and friends for support. If you have a partner, ask them to adopt the change as well. Here are some more tips on reaching out for support.

  • Ask a family member, friend or neighbour to go for a walk with you.
  • Ask for help to cut up vegetables and fruit.
  • If you do not buy the groceries, ask whoever does to only buy healthy snacks.
  • Ask your healthcare team for information and coaching. For instance, your physiotherapist can give you a safe exercise routine. Your dietitian can help with healthier food choices.
We learned how to buy groceries in a different way. Making healthier choices for all of us.
5. Track your progress

The more you track your progress, the greater your chances of achieving your goal. Keep a log or record of what you are doing to work toward your goal.

If your goal is to walk around the block every day, this simple log will track your walks.

You only need to track the changes until you feel that they have become a regular habit. That usually takes three to six weeks.

6. When things go off plan, keep going!

It can be hard to stick to a plan if you are tired, stressed, or not feeling well. Setbacks are a normal part of the process – they are not a failure. Don’t give up. Here are some tips to help you turn a setback around:

  • Remind yourself why you want to make the change. Think about how important it is.
  • Did you change too much at once? It is ok to pause on one goal while you focus on another. You can come back to it when you feel ready. 
  • Revisit your goal. What was the barrier that got in your way? Try again.
  • Look at what you’ve achieved so far. It is human nature to focus on the things we don’t get right, but try instead to give yourself credit for what you have accomplished.
  • Start keeping a log again.
  • Look at what caused the setback. What can you do if it happens again? Look for support. Ask your family to help you get back on track.
  • Check your goals again. Are they specific, realistic and measurable? Do you need to change them?
  • Do you need to change your plan?
7. Celebrate success!

Whenever you make a small step toward your goal, pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself. Reward yourself with something you like – time with a friend or a favourite movie.

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