Healthy Habits: Small Changes Lead To Big Changes!

A recurring theme in our business of fitness and active aging is how to get from A to B – where you are now and where you want to be.

Whether it is weight loss, better nutrition, more energy, injury prevention, disease reduction or any of the many other reasons people have, the secret to success lies in using your mind to make small changes that add up and lead to the desired big changes as you create new, healthy habits.


Instead of speaking generally, I will give a specific case example. I have a 65-year-old friend, Barbara. She has diabetes, insomnia, low arm muscle tone (related to a shoulder injury and surgery), is overweight by about 20 pounds, and has forward head thrust.

Oh, she also complains of snoring, but wants to avoid wearing a CPAP machine to bed (recommended by her doctors after a sleep study for the insomnia!). Her eating habits consist mostly of fast food and restaurant food.


For two months, she has talked about the things she “should” do, yet not much has changed. When she started talking to me, I listened for any recent relevant successes.

As it turned out, she had lost about 35 pounds over the past few years. With a background in fitness, food and counseling, you would think I could just say, “do X, Y, and Z and you will be fine.” Well, I could say that, but would she listen? Would you?


Keeping in mind she is my friend, not my client, I am somewhat limited, yet she truly is motivated. So I think like a pro and friend, by staying as non-judgmental as possible (that is diplomatic talk for me trying to keep my mouth shut regarding unsolicited advice).

The Do’s And Don’ts To Adopting Healthy Habits


  • Focus on one issue at a time.
  • Put related issues together.
  • Mention possible small changes.
  • Create an environment that leads to success.
  • Go small.
  • Pat, Slap, Pat (totally non-counselorish phrase for Compliment, Correct, Compliment!).
  • Find opportunities to celebrate small successes.
  • Lay out a clear picture of what success looks like; you can not reach a goal if you do not know what it is!


  • Try to solve all the issues at once.
  • Nag and be a saboteur.
  • Expect the person to do what “you” would do.

I realized fairly quickly that Barbara’s main focus is the insomnia and snoring, even more than getting off the diabetes medicine. Me, I would want to be off the daily shots for the diabetes, but that is “me”, not her.


She does not like being reminded about pulling her head back, so the forward head thrust is out of the equation for now. She also has shown little inclination to work out, so the arm strength is also set aside.

The good news for her is that the cure for the insomnia and snoring is going to help her diabetes and weight too.


These Are A Few Of The Changes That She Has Made…

1. She said she wanted to walk her dog, yet that was not happening. Instead of nagging her to walk the dog, I asked what it was she did not like about walking the dog.
She said it was boring to walk the same neighborhood day after day.



We meet at different places in town and walk the dog.

Side Benefit:


She is discovering places in town that she had never visited, and her dog barks less at night because he is sleeping better too.

2. She said she wanted to eat better by eating fewer meals (skipping breakfast, to be specific!). Research does not back up this plan, but I know very few people who change their habits when they read research, so instead I went shopping with her and helped her pick out foods she would actually eat.


She found cereals she liked and has taught herself to read labels to watch for the sugar content (for the diabetes!).

Side Benefit:

She is no longer driving through fast food places mid-morning to satiate her hunger, so the type and amount of calories she is eating have changed for the better.

3. She knows that exercise leads to weight loss, which leads to a decrease in snoring and helps her sleep better, yet she was not doing any exercise. She is a social person, so I invite her to join me on dog walks and other walking opportunities.

For example, she is so used to driving everywhere, that is it is a habit for her to jump into her car for even a short distance. We were headed somewhere that is about a quarter mile from my house, so I suggested we walk.


She is starting to look at walking as a way to get from place to place, rather than as forced exercise. By simply “interrupting” her unconscious habit of jumping into the car, she now sees walking as an alternative mode of transport.

Side Benefit:

She has noticed the correlation between the exercise and how she sleeps, and has come to realize that it is actually cause and effect.

4. She is a kindhearted person who likes to be a good friend. We were going out to restaurants far more than is my usual style, and I found I was eating more than I normally would.

When I expressed concern about this, she wanted to be helpful to me. She is not a doggie bag person; her mindset is more toward “clean your plate.”

Thinking of “Pat, Slap, Pat,” I said, “I love going out to eat and trying new foods. This lifestyle will not work for me in the long run, as I am sitting too long and eating too much” (way better than saying, “You eat out way too often,” which sounds judgy!).

“Could we swing by the ready-made section of the grocery store and pick up some lunch there instead?” If I had suggested cooking at home, she would not have been successful at reducing her restaurant visits, since she does not cook.


She is looking more to the grocery store as a place for portion control and choice.

Side Benefit:

She now has more time for those dog walks, as she is spending less time sitting in a restaurant.

I gave her a card for her wallet that lists her goals, but that was a total bust, as she never looks at it. And I discovered that chocolate shakes are non-negotiable for her, so I stopped rolling my eyes.

She has a sweet tooth, so I have to work with, not against it. How? I offer fruit in vanilla yogurt to her, which sometimes (not always!) satisfies her sugar craving.

And is not fruit two times out of ten better than candy bars ten out of ten? Maybe she will get to five times fruit and five times chocolate bars. But, that might be enough to beat the diabetes.

Oh, I got her hooked on bolthouse vanilla chai instead of the caffeinated energy drinks and sodas she was drinking. That is a big success!

What is the one small thing you can do? Write it in the comments below so we can steal your ideas.