Change Sign

Photo: Tom Goskar (CC)

By now you’ve probably been inundated with emails and articles urging you to keep your New Year’s resolutions. But for social marketers, the need for creating behavior change—whether your own or that of your priority populations—is year-round.

Here are some tips from a social marketing perspective for ways you can build support for long-term behavioral shifts into your programs, that can also work in your own life (bonus!).

1)  Set and track goals
Know what specific behavior you’re trying to change. Rather than just saying you want people to “lose weight,” make the plan more concrete: Eat 6 servings of vegetables every day. Have protein as a snack rather than carbs. Go for a 30 minute walk every morning at 8 am. Offering ways to track progress will provide a feedback loop that continues to motivate as success breeds success.

2) Create habits through behavioral triggers
The more automatic we can make the desired behaviors, the less we have to rely on willpower alone to do the job (which is often not a very hard worker!). Habits arise when something triggers us to take an action – it could be when we’re doing something else (e.g., eating while watching TV), when we feel a specific emotion (e.g., checking Facebook when we feel bored), or when we get a reminder (e.g., the 6 o’clock news comes on and we realize it’s time to make dinner).

Find a regular event that you can link the desired behavior to, such as making a healthy lunch for work the next day right after you finish dinner. Or use reminders like a sticky note on your bathroom mirror helping you remember to floss your teeth when you’re in the right place at the right time.

3) Design the environment for success
Create a situation that enables the desired behavior and makes it hard to veer off the chosen path. This could involve limiting the choices available (e.g., only buying foods that fit healthy guidelines), getting prepared in advance before decisions are made in the heat of the moment (e.g., setting up an automatic monthly transfer of a portion of your salary to a savings account), or surrounding yourself with reminders of your ultimate goal (e.g., taping a picture of your kids onto your cigarette box to help you remember why you want to quit).

These tips are just a few of the ways that a social marketing perspective can help you help your community to become healthier or better off. Behavioral science insights can be applied to your New Year’s resolutions as well as creating positive change throughout the year!