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The B4FD Project features blog posts from guest writers that explore the far-reaching benefits of family dinner.

Family Dinner Month 2012: Sept 17 -- Oct 29, 2012

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5 Tips for Making a Successful Change

by Kathleen Cuneo, Ph.D.

photo courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’re in mid-January and some of you may have already abandoned your efforts at resolution you set for yourself at the start of the new year. If so, you’re not alone. Making effective and lasting behavior changes can be very difficult. Yet despite the difficulty, I’m a big believer in setting goals for personal and family development. For me, I’m mostly likely to set new goals in September at the start of the school year or in January at the beginning of a new year, but new goals can be set at any time.

If you want to make a change towards greater health and happiness this year, it can be helpful to keep the following tips in mind.

1.    Adopt a change mindset. Pay attention to your motivation for change and express your intention to make a change. When you speak about your goals out loud to a trusted friend or family member and/or write them down for yourself, you are making your goals more tangible. As time goes on and you naturally find yourself drifting away from your goal, it can be very helpful to look back on your original motivation for making a change. Further, if you’re having a hard time defining your motivation for a goal (other than you think that you “should” in some general way), you may want to re-think if this is the change you truly want to take on.

2.    Be specific and realistic when setting your goal. People who set goals that are clear and concrete are much more successful in achieving them than people who set a general goal. For example, you have a better chance of achieving a goal like, “I will make at least one meatless meal each week for family dinner,” than a goal like “I will try to be healthier.” Also, don’t overwhelm yourself with too many goals. Further, consider how you will track and measure your progress on your goal. It’s easier to note whether you’ve achieved a goal such as “I will prepare 3 home-cooked meals each week” than “I will try to have less take-out.”

3.    Identify your optimal change style and plan accordingly. I tend to recommend that people approach behavior change in small and steady steps. Like most people, it’s easier for me to make changes that are not so different from where I’m starting out and then gradually build upon small successes. Some people, however, are more successful when they make a more radical change. They may get frustrated with the pace of small changes and feel more successful when they immerse themselves in a new habit. Examine your own patterns and history of success. Acknowledge what has worked for you in the past as you develop your plan for change now. Whichever approach you take, the key is to have a plan.

4.    Find support. Identify the people already in your life who can help you stay on track with your goals. For example, if your goal is to prepare more home-cooked meals, perhaps you have a friend or family member whom you can enlist to join you in the same goal by taking a cooking class together or by sharing recipes. If your goal is to gather the family together to sit down for family meals more frequently, then bring your family members on board so that you can all support each other in making the effort to schedule times when you’re all available to eat together. Change is easier when approached with a sense of fun and socialization. You may need to expand your existing social circle to get the support and help you need. It’s also important to be aware that changes that you’re making to benefit yourself or your family may have an impact on others – that isn’t necessarily perceived as positive by them. Open communication will be key in navigating these sometimes tricky waters.

5.    Be gentle with yourself. Change is a process and you will likely experience some setbacks. Avoid beating yourself up when this happens. Pick yourself up and start again.


Kathleen Cuneo, Ph.D. is proud to be one of the co-founders of the Blog for Family Dinner. She is a psychologist, parent coach, and mom. Her mission is to help parents raise happy and healthy kids – without making themselves or their kids crazy! She provides education and support to parents through her websites www.dinnertogether.com, www.drcuneo.com, and www.kitchentableparents.com.

4 comments to 5 Tips for Making a Successful Change

  • Helpful post – I like the idea of setting goals around healthy eating and family meals!

  • Very helpful…especially the last tip: be gentle with yourself!

  • Thanks for reminding me to revisit and check in on my goals. Doing well so far…for the most part. I’ll be updating soon.

  • Ben

    Terrific post! For lasting changes, I’m a big believer in starting small and involving family. For example, resolved to do more equally enjoyable fun family activities that were healthy for everyone. Simple things. Like doing exercises together. Or taking advantage of a Groupon and doing a family Kung Fu class. Or geocaching (outdoor scavenger hunt via smartphone). Or Frisbee golf on the snowed-over golf course. For me, all comes back to starting small and involving family. Thanks for the great post! Cheers!