New Year after New Year, millions of people pledge to lose weight, stop smoking, exercise five times a week and eat out less, but have you ever wondered how many of them actually follow through and turn these resolutions into routines?
Unfortunately, the answer is not many. This is because simply making the resolution and wanting to follow through isn’t enough. Here’s why: In order to achieve sustainable health and wellness, you must change your behaviors. And in order to change your behaviors, you must gain awareness and understanding of the different stages of change.
Too often people make lofty goals without a solid understanding of the stages of change, thus setting them up for failure. By understanding each stage, you can prepare yourself for the challenges ahead and recognize them as necessary steps to effecting the change you desire.
The Stages of Change
Stage #1: Pre-Contemplation: In this stage you have no intention of changing within the next six months. You may not be aware that a problem exists, you may be in denial, or you may be unwilling to change. In addition, you may be feeling hopeless in this stage after your last failed attempt to change your behavior.
Stage #2: Contemplation: At this point you have recognized that you desire change, but you alternate between reasons to change and reasons to keep things as they are. For example, you acknowledge that you need to lose weight but you rationalize that exercise will take time away from your kids, and you really don’t want to miss out on them growing up.
Stage #3: Preparation: Once you have realized that the advantages of change outweigh the disadvantages, you make a mental commitment to take action in the near, foreseeable future.
Stage #4: Action: The action stage begins when you have successfully altered your behavior for a minimum of one day and a maximum of six months, and are continuously working toward success.
Stage #5: Maintenance: You have been engaged in your new behavior for more than six months and are evaluating the gains attained during the previous stages. For example, you have been working out for eight months and are noticing that you have more energy, your clothes fit looser and you’re in a better mood.
When thinking about creating change in your life, assess what stage you are currently in and where you want to be. Perhaps you’ve been in the contemplation stage for months now, going back and forth between eating healthier, which requires more work, and keeping things as they are, which is far easier to manage. Assess whether you’re happy in the contemplation stage, or want to move forward in the process.
Wondering the best way to get started? Focus on one change at a time. Write down the change you’d like to make, and identify the trigger and replacement habit. Your trigger is what prompts you to engage in your current habit. For example, stress may trigger your cravings for Oreo cookies and other junk foods. In this case, you need to identify a replacement habit. What could you do, other than eat junk food, when you’re feeling stressed? Maybe you could go for a walk, meditate or practice relaxation techniques. For the next thirty days, focus on your replacement habit when your trigger occurs, and don’t forget to reward yourself for small victories!