Changes in lifestyle and behavior might be easy to make. But they are often short-lived. So, what can we do to maintain the changes that we have made? This question has been studied by Frida Skarin, PhD student at the Service Research Center, Karlstad University.
In her doctoral thesis, "Positive change for wellbeing: Maintained intervention-induced Behaviors and healthier lifestyles", she looks at the psychological mechanisms of how to maintain a new behavior.
- There is no quick fix. The common denominator to succeed in maintaining intervention-induced behavioral change is that you genuinely want to change your behavior, not just see results. It is also good to have a plan that leaves room for flexibility and preparation in response to new conditions that may arise during the different phases of the behavioral change process, as well as in relation to your life circumstances, your surrounding and yourself, says Frida Skarin.
The thesis starts off by addressing lifestyle behaviors such as increased car use, stress, lack of exercise, and unhealthy diets that negatively affect people's health at both an individual and global level, as well as having an impact on the environment and the economy. There needs to be a shift, but ingrained behaviors are not easy to change.
- There are many different interventions to help people with various types of behavioral changes, such how to eat healthier. But many of these interventions are short-term solutions, which leads to short-term changes, says Frida Skarin, who has conducted three field studies on how lifestyle changes can be made and maintained using behavioral change programs.
- The first field study entailed changing a relatively basic, isolated behavior: how you travel to work. The second field study entailed different levels of complexity and scope of behaviors related to well-being. And the third field study looked at changes in several complex behaviors simultaneously, such as changes in eating behavior and physical activity.
Despite growing problems, research on how healthier lifestyle changes can be maintained over time, instead of making short-term changes, has been sparse.
- There is a need for more research on how to keep up a healthier lifestyle, says Frida Skarin.
The findings of her thesis emphasize the importance of focusing on behavioral goals, that the change is perceived as positive during the intervention and that you experience gains and immediate results, as well as adapting a flexible approach so that you are prepared for shifting conditions during the different phases of the behavioral change process.