SMART Tips for Real Life Change

Tech Talk Tuesday #47: How can you achieve success with some screen time resolutions this year?

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With 2017 on the horizon, the last few days of 2016 are resolution season. Are you considering making some positive life changes? Great, me too.

But how can we make the changes stick…for real this time?

In my twenty years as a physician I have witnessed and experienced how hard it is to actually make a behavior change, no matter how compelling the reason. Even in the face of chronic obstructive lung disease, patients with years of tobacco use try to to quit and don’t always succeed. A person with diabetes can find it so hard to control eating habits, even though it’s a life and death matter.

My primary care experience has taught me that I must start with understanding a person’s readiness to change: Do they really want to? Why? Why not? 

The same is true for changing behavior around screen use. Let’s say a teen wants, and even recognizes he needs, to decrease video game playing time Monday through Thursday. Start with the ‘why’: Why would this be a good change to make? What are the challenges or downsides? Lay these thoughts out proactively before making an action plan.

Another key component to success is picking one goal at a time. Define the goal with specifics around what success looks like. When parents say their approach to getting their kids to reduce their screen time is to simply model better use of their own screen time, I get worried. Having a goal like that is vague, and it is unclear how you will know whether you’ve achieved it. 

Based on one of my favorite simple books — Living Smart by Joshua C. Klapow — I think this is a great model for change:

S = Set goal
M = Monitor progress, like noting on a calendar each time you succeed
A = Arrange for success, like putting the video game controller out of sight during the week
R = Recruit people to help, like finding a friend who is also cutting back on video game time
T = Treat. (My favorite part!) Choose something that’s a personal reward you value, like having a special dessert or movie tickets or something else from the teen wish list.

Questions to get you started for this week's Tech Talk Tuesday:

  1. What screen time goal would you like to achieve this year?
  2. Why is that goal important to you?
  3. What might stand in your way of achieving that goal?
  4. How can you tell and record if you are meeting your goal?
  5. Who can you recruit as an ally for cheering you on toward making this goal?
  6. What could you reward yourself with when you make progress toward your goal?