In my 12 years as a personal trainer and health coach, it is clear that those who lose the most weight and keep it off, those who stay trim, lean, active, and passionately enjoy life, are the ones who have learned to change behaviors.

Dr BJ Fong, a professor at Stanford University has done some fascinating work in the field of behavior. Dr Fogg states that three elements, Motivation, Ability, and Trigger, must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing

Dr Fogg’s list of the Top Ten Mistakes in Behavior Change will give more insight about our behavior. (Bodysmart comments are in italics.) for further information on Dr. Fong go to

1. Relying on willpower for long-term change

Imagine willpower does not exist. That’s step 1 to a brighter future.

When we see someone who is trim and lean, we tend to think s/he is naturally thin or must have a lot of willpower. Not so. A healthy life results from healthy habits not from continuously exercising iron willpower. Willpower — such as it is — is great for short-term emergencies but it is quickly exhausted. Better to flee temptation than try to resist it. If you do not have that wonderfully rich desert in your refrigerator you will not need willpower to not eat it! (You will also be removing a trigger for an unwanted behavior.

2. Attempting big leaps instead of baby steps

Seek tiny successes — one after another.

Success breeds success. Repetitive successes will reinforce the new behavior. Small modest goals are easier to accomplish than are ambitious large goals. Goals that are easy to accomplish require less motivation. So now that you no longer have that wonderfully rich desert in the refrigerator have a small bowl of berries or a piece of melon instead.

3. Ignoring how often environment shapes behaviors

Change your context & you change your life.

Try a “one-day experiment.” Commit to only one simple change only one day a week. On Mondays, for example, instead of going to one of your convenient fast food restaurants for a cheeseburger bring a small peanut butter sandwich and an apple from home. Walk, or drive, to the nearby park to eat the sandwich and apple. If you had to drive to the park, take a 15-minute walk in the park.

If you feel like trying two lunch-in-the-park days per week, then do so. Add more days in the park when you feel ready. The objective is to get some momentum going only progressing further as you feel comfortable.

Alternatively, instead of relaxing after your evening meal watching TV and nibbling on popcorn or a little candy take a 15-minute walk. When you return home, do not turn on TV. Pick up a book or magazine and forgo the snacking. Add more days a week to the no snacking and no TV as you feel comfortable doing so.

4. Trying to stop old behaviors instead of creating new ones

Focus on action, not avoidance.

Just as you will steer a car or throw a ball wherever it is you are looking, you will tend to do whatever it is you are focused on — even if you are focused on it because you are trying to avoid it. Find something positive to focus on and do that instead. It is a lot easier to replace a bad habit than it is to break it.

5. Blaming failures on lack of motivation

Solution: Make the behavior easier to do.

Remember, the easier it is for you to do the behavior the less you have to be motivated. If, for example, you are having difficulty in getting an exercise routine started then make it easy to do. Just commit to a single 5-minute workout. Climb on a machine or go for a walk, pick any activity of your choice, but commit only to 5-minutes.
If you end up doing more than 5 minutes – great, but the goal is just to accomplish the 5-minutes. Once you see how easy it is to do the single, one time, 5-minute workout it, add a second one a few days later. Keep adding more days as you find comfortable until you are exercising daily. In a similar manner, you can gradually increase the time you spend exercising each day and soon you will into a real training program.

6. Underestimating the power of triggers

No behavior happens without a trigger.

Are you motivated to be trimmer and a little leaner? More energetic? Keeping a rich desert in your refrigerator, or dishes of snack food in your TV room can be a powerful trigger for an unwanted behavior especially a behavior that is soooo easy to do. Get rid of triggers for unwanted behavior. Replace them with triggers for healthy living.

7. Believing that information leads to action

We humans are not so rational.

Why is it that we can be so successful in our life, yet not successful in staying lean and trim and in having the more robust, vigorous and high-energy life? Can it be that success in life is a result of personal dedication to work, family, and other ideals rather than to the pursuit of the trappings of success? Can we put healthy living into action the same way we put success in our family and work life into action?

8. Focusing on abstract goals more than concrete behaviors

Abstract: Get in shape
Concrete: Walk 15 minutes today

The abstract goal can be overwhelming. The overwhelming part is the commitment of changing behavior for life, so it may be necessary to remove some of the commitment aspect to take some pressure off. By removing the commitment, you will get an accurate assessment of just how challenging the behavior changes really are.

But how do you remove the “commitment” from something that seems to inherently require one? Try a “one-day experiment.” This is where you commit to only one single day of change. For that one day, toe the line: make healthy choices, and workout. The next day go back to your normal routine. If you feel like trying another healthy day, then do so. If not, try another one the following week. Add a second day when you feel ready. The objective is to get some momentum going by accomplishing at least one day and only progressing further as you feel comfortable.

9. Seeking to change a behavior forever, not for a short time.

A fixed period works better than “forever”.

Forever seems like such a long time that it requires huge motivation. Better to choose a fixed period that is not overwhelming – a day, a week, a month.

10. Assuming that behavior change is difficult.

Behavior change is not so hard when you have the right process. For a behavior to happen requires that Motivation, Ability and a trigger all converge.