Part 1 of the Implementing Change series of blogposts looked at moving from good intentions to actually making changes, or what the experts consider moving from contemplation to preparation to the action stage of change. In Part 2, we will go over some key health skills that can help you keep your good changes going, where they eventually become “just what you do,” – known as the maintenance stage.

A list of health skills, known as behaviour change techniques, and their definitions, examples, and supporting research, can be found here. Let’s take a closer look at 3 health skills – Graded Tasks, Action Planning, and Imagery – to turn your talk into action.

Health Skill #1: Graded Tasks

Remember the saying “slow and steady wins the race?” A graded task means essentially that – starting slow and building on success. It involves setting easy to perform tasks, and gradually making them more difficult, until you can perform your desired behaviour (i.e. the end of the race).


Desired behaviour: taking part in a 5km run

Graded task: Run the distance between 3 lampposts during week 1. Once this is achieved, add 1 lamppost each time you run until you can run for 5 km without stopping.

Desired behaviour: sleep longer

Graded tasks: On day 1, go to bed 15 minutes earlier than you would normally and wake up at your usual time. On day 2, go to bed 20 minutes earlier that you would normally. On day 3, go to bed 25 minutes than you would earlier. Keep reducing your bed time by 5 minutes until you reach your desired bed time.

Notice how the tasks are relatively small and achievable? This allows your body to adjust and get used to the change, making the behaviour easier and building self-confidence you can keep going.

Health skill #2: Action Planning

Action planning means in-depth planning of the change you want to make. The plan must include the context, frequency, duration, or intensity of the activity.


Desired behaviour: reduce alcohol consumption

Action plan: “At the next party, I will replace every second drink I have with water or another non-alcoholic drink.” If someone often drinks 4 glasses of wine at a party, they may change to drinking 1 glass of water, 1 glass of wine, 1 glass of water, followed by 1 last glass of wine.

Desired behaviour: walking for 30 minutes 5 days per week

Action plan: “I will walk for 30 minutes right after work on four days of the week but aim for Monday through Thursday. I will then walk for 30 minutes first thing on Saturday morning.” Giving yourself a little wiggle room, such as if you have to work late on the odd Wednesday then you walk on Friday, can make your plan more achievable.

For more action planning examples, see the blogpost published last year.

Health skill #3: Imagery

Imagery involves – you guessed it – your imagination! One way to use imagery is to do a mental rehearsal of a successful performance, which means imagining yourself doing the change you want to make, in the relevant context. Imagery takes practice, so you may have to try a few times until you get the hang of it. Here’s a few examples:

  • Imagine eating a salad for lunch at work instead of your usual. Picture your lunch room and imagine opening a container to find a crisp salad, full of nutritious and different coloured vegetables. Think about how it tastes, how it looks, how it sounds when you eat it. Lastly, imagine you have finished the salad and feel satisfied. You may also feel proud of yourself by choosing and sticking to a healthy option.
  • Imagine yourself snowshoeing or hiking on your Sunday, instead of lounging around the house. Picture the crisp air, the sparkling snow, the peace and quiet. Your heart may be beating faster, and you feel your muscles moving. You feel good because you are being active in the outdoors.

These were just 2 quick examples. Imagery can be helpful when you want to overcome an obstacle. Think about what problem you’re facing, how you may overcome it, and imagine yourself doing it successfully!


Let us know how these health skills are working for you. If you have other ideas to stay motivated and keep on track, comment below.

Leila Dale

Author Leila Dale

Leila Dale, PhD, is an expert in physical activity behaviour change and mobile health. She continues to conduct research through the School of Kinesiology at UBC and is a consultant for the World Health Organization. Aside from work, she is a mom of two and loves to run around with them outdoors.

More posts by Leila Dale

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