An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Abe Rosenberg | January 6, 2016



If you made an ambitious list of resolutions for 2016, you have plenty of company. An estimated 45 percent of the country did the exact same thing. 

Another interesting fact? About one-third of those resolution makers will give up by February. More than half drop out by July.

But take heart. Positive lifestyle change, regardless of when it starts, can lower your risk of cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It can also give you the strength to face life’s struggles – especially important for those fighting cancer.

With the first week of January upon us, now is the perfect time to set yourself up for success. If you have the right strategy, it is possible to maintain your New Year’s pledges through 2016 and beyond.



Here, Jeanelle Folbrecht, Ph.D., chief of psychology in the Department of Supportive Care Medicine at City of Hope, shares her six strategies for staying focused and positive, and moving toward achievable goals. 

Keep it simple. “I want people to experience success right away,” said Folbrecht. “But trying to make a major change, or too many changes, is daunting. Instead, take things one small, doable step at a time. Want to get fit? Walk before you jog. Lose weight? Add a veggie or two, rather than vowing to immediately 'cut out all the fat.'” Many experts advise setting a reasonable target like losing a pound a week, instead of a vague “I want to get thin.” Folbrecht agrees: “Don't let the 'overall' overwhelm you.”

Lay the groundwork. Experts call this “pre-committing.” Create conditions that propel you forward, and make it more difficult to back out. Get the junk food out of the house. Pull that pile of clothes off the exercise bike. Spend some money on running shoes. Sign up for workout classes. 

Rally support. Don't isolate yourself. “If I go on a diet all alone, and I fail, the only person I disappoint is me.” That's why, Folbrecht said, enlisting others in your effort is so important. Some call this outsourcing your self-control. “When you work on goals together, there's a sense of accountability, and powerful motivation. If things get tough, there's someone there to support you and help figure things out. Plus, a little competition doesn't hurt.”

Build in reinforcement. Remember, willpower is going to run out, so lay out a path of “booster shots” to keep going. “When I work with people, I always work in rewards. Toss a dollar in a jar for every additional mile you're able to run,” said Folbrecht. Giving yourself a reason to celebrate -- a night out for every month you don't smoke, or a new outfit each time you shed five pounds -- can help you clear the next hurdle. 

Keep track, but don't overdo. Should you weigh yourself every day? Depends, said Folbrecht. “If [daily motivation] motivates you, great. If you obsess over it, don't do it.” Technology can help here, with any number of wearable monitors and smartphone apps that will help you track progress, encourage you, and even provide regular rewards, like automatic donations to your favorite charity.

Backsliding is not a fail. “Changing behavior is exceptionally hard and slip-ups are normal,” said Folbrecht. She recommends viewing such setbacks as learning opportunities, to identify the triggers, work through the process and solve the problem for next time. 

If you or a loved one are dealing with cancer, this is especially important. “Cancer patients are pretty well-motivated because of their serious circumstances. But they also have to cope with fear, anxiety and isolation,” said Folbrecht. “Those feelings can be self-reinforcing. I'm very careful to give those folks simple, achievable tasks to take them to the next step without scaring them off.”


Find additional tips, tools and resources to help you and your family cope with the issues that arise during and after cancer treatment on our Living with Cancer website.

If you are looking for a second opinion about your diagnosis or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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