Around the start of a new year many people want to change something about themselves. Such changes often mean forsaking a bad habit that many people enjoy - overeating, driving too fast and staying up too late at night. It also means doing things that require special effort - exercising, eating breakfast and abstaining from saturated fats.

The field of injury prevention and safety involves many behaviors requiring vigilance and self-control. Why do people find it so difficult to adhere to a behavior requiring self-control? One answer involves the short-term pleasure of inappropriate behavior. Many people prefer dealing with life by playing the odds that they will not be injured.Research reveals that good educational programs can increase knowledge and foster positive attitudes. However, these factors have not been found to reliably influence healthy lifestyles. While mastery of accurate information is necessary, it may not sufficiently empower most people with personal control of their behavior in many situations. On the other hand, the ability to employ self-management techniques often helps individuals make lifestyle adaptations consistent with their health-related decisions.

Self-management skills can help one drop a current behavior, such as driving too fast, or acquire a new behavior, such as always wearing seat belts.

Example of self-management

Wearing safety belts represents a desirable behavior. Let's say that you have decided to start wearing safety belts. The first thing you need to know to change your behavior is how often you now wear safety belts. If you never wear them, then you already know the answer. However, if you wear them occasionally, then you need to self-monitor your safety-belt habits. Observe and record whenever you do and don't wear a safety belt.

The next step is to write a contract. For example, you can state, "I will wear safety belts whenever in a car." The contract can be made either with yourself or with another person whose opinion is important to you. Contracts with a "significant other" are more effective than self-contracts since they make you accountable to another person. Therefore, let us assume that you show the contract to your spouse or a close friend.

To increase the probability of succeeding in your wearing a safety belt, you should follow your wearing with material reinforcement. At the end of the week, for example, you could treat yourself to a movie, a book, or other rewarding experience.

If you have difficulty initiating and maintaining the wearing of a safety belt every time you are in a car, implement a graduated regimen program; that is, start with only two days a week. Then, once you have successfully maintained that schedule, increase your wearing of a safety belt to three times weekly, then eventually every day.

To maintain your efforts over time, use reminders. A sign or note on the dashboard could be used to remind you to buckle up. You could also ask another person to remind you to buckle up.

This example has included all the methods of changing a lifestyle behavior - self-monitoring, self-contracting, contracting with a significant other person, material reinforcement, graduated regimen implementation and reminders.