Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
Are you looking to lose weight? Eat more healthfully? Enjoy a more active life? Replace a bad health habit with a good one? Then you are in one of the 5 Stages of Change people must go through to improve their lives. Which one? And will knowing your stage help you succeed with your desired change?
Change is Scary
Kymberly: “Change is not simple; it is scary.” Anschutz Medical Center faculty member and licensed psychologist, Denise McGuire, PhD laid this on us at the recent FitSocial conference. Her presentation on making lifestyle changes covered the phases we pass through to meet our new goals.
Willingness, Not Willpower is Key
According to Dr. McGuire, one of the mistakes we make is thinking we can change something once, then be done. For example, long term diets don’t work for 95% of people who try them. Yet it is a myth that people don’t or can’t really change. They can–YOU can!–if you know what stage of change you are in and adjust accordingly. Willpower alone is not sufficient. Willingness, not willpower is key. To change, you need to be willing to go outside your comfort zone. And that can be scary!
Alexandra: We aren’t fans of attributing lack of success to willpower, which has a sense of fighting against yourself and leads to self-recrimination. It has a negative feel to it. It’s far more empowering to either be willing or unwilling to do a behavior that leads to change. In other words, you didn’t LOSE a battle so much as you CHOSE something else instead. So Power Up! (lovers of video games will recognize this phrase as a way to instantly gain benefits and abilities).
Kymberly: Unfortunately, fewer than 20% of people in problem populations are ready for change. (What do you define as a “problem” population? The obese? Smokers? Sedentary individuals? Dr. McGuire implied all of the former, but did not really cover this so you can decide whether you consider yourself in a problem population). Are you in that 20% elite ready to improve your life?
5 Stages of Change
People in this initial stage are resistant to change; they deny they have a problem believing they need to change those around them. Precontemplators can be demoralized and feel their situation is hopeless; they are defensive and rarely take responsibility for their behaviors.
This stage is a relatively safe place to be as there is no risk of failure. It’s a comfort zone though not a healthy one!
Progress! People in this phase accept that they, not others are the ones needing to make a change. However they are still not ready to take action.
If you are in this phase, you plan to take action within the month. You are aware of your problem, have increasing confidence in your ability to tackle it; have gathered the necessary information and want to take action, but are not quite ready. Almost though!
While you might consider this the easy phase, Dr. McGuire revealed that the Action stage requires the greatest amount of commitment, support, and energy. To succeed you must engage in self-talk to bolster your resolve; you need to be clear about your motivation; and you will do well to write down your reasons for change and read your notes daily.
Keep in mind that the Action stage does NOT mean you are continually moving forward; you will go back sometimes, then forward. But you WILL get to your goal. Think of it as walking against waves: slow going with resistance, yet you eventually DO get to smoother waters (aka it becomes a habit). Be prepared — people in the Action phase usually need 4-5 attempts before progressing to the fifth and final stage.
This phase lasts anywhere from 6 months to life, and is where new habits are formed. To stop yourself from moving back to an earlier stage consider these 5 tips from Dr. McGuire:
- be clear about your motivation (how does this new habit improve your life?)
- tackle just one issue at a time
- get support
- track your progress
- learn from setbacks
Alexandra: The Maintenance Phase is also an important stage to work on the words you use to describe yourself and your actions. For example, “relapse” has a more negative feel to it than “setback.” Which word sounds more successful to you? Another way to frame your behavior in this stage is to focus on the work you’ve done and the progress you’ve made.
While you’re at it, throw away the word “failure.” That’s a word to apply to hard drives and car brakes, not humans. People do not go in a straight line: Success ——> Failure; people go in labyrinths, circles and winding paths. As Gandalf wrote in his letter to the Hobbits, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Then his pen ran out of ink just as he was going to write, “And not all those who wander off the path are doomed.”
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5 Stages of Change Pie Chart http://www.readytoexercise.com/stages.html