Another new year brings another list of resolutions for many people. Too often, those lists include habits for some sort of “change” and are forgotten or abandoned by the end of the next week, leaving many people with a feeling of despair or failure. Too often, we try to make dramatic changes without making the most important change first … changing our mind.
Last summer I had the opportunity to participate in an in-depth training course on “Coaching Healthy Behaviors” at The Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas. Founded in 1970, Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH believed that it was as important to try to prevent disease as it was to treat and cure disease. Over three decades, that basic premise and vision has been reaffirmed and strengthened. What was once looked upon as "opinion" has become scientific reality.
At the training, we spent a great deal of time defining and understanding the psychological theories of behavior change. It’s important to remember that before we can change the way we act, we must change the way we think. The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change, defines the five “stages of change” which will help you to be able to identify your “readiness to change.”
Here are the five stages of behavior change and common characteristics of people in each stage. Where do you fit?
Pre-contemplation : Not intending to change (“I can’t and/or I won’t”)
• Have no serious intention to change behavior in the foreseeable future, certainly not within the next 6 months.
• Unaware of the health problems, risks or long term consequences or may have high awareness but deny that the consequences are relevant to them or will rationalize their current behavior.
• Unaware of the many benefits of the desirable behaviors; consequently, they minimize the importance of them.
• May resist suggestions on ways to benefit their health and may deny that their behavior is less than optimal.
• May feel discouraged about their ability to change. Perhaps they have tried and failed in the past and have become demoralized, no longer believing that they are capable of changing (i.e. New Year’s Resolution). Or, they may have become disillusioned by having attempted too great or too rapid a behavior change at some time in the past (i.e. The Biggest Loser challenge).
• Cons of changing greatly outnumber or outweigh the pros.
Contemplation : Thinking about change. (“I may”)
• May be thinking about changing within the next 90 days, but have not committed to taking action.
• Aware of problem and considering overcoming it, but there is still great ambivalence.
• May not know how to get started.
• May know what to do but not quite ready to take the first step.
• Reasons not to change (the barriers) still outweigh the reasons to change (the benefits). Perhaps a barrier to being healthy (such as time or energy) seems too difficult to overcome.
• Waiting for something to happen to them to make them change.
• Open to learning.
Preparation : Ready and preparing to change. (“I will”)
• Time frame of change usually within the next 30 days.
• May already be acting on their desire to change and making short-term attempts at the desired behavior, but not on a regular basis (i.e. participate in a walking program for 8 weeks and then stop after program is over.)
• May have a plan and know what they need to do, yet may be uncertain or anxious about the outcomes of their actions (i.e. stop smoking).
• May show small signs of progress, but are sporadic (i.e. eat healthy meals while at work, but then revert to unhealthy behaviors when eating out, eating at home, or eating with friends.)
• May have taken some action in the recent past that had mixed or inconsistent results (i.e. joined a gym but only worked out once a week).
• Benefits and barriers are equal.
Action : Taking action for less than 6 months. (“ I am”)
• Building new behavior patterns.
• Have modified behavior and/or environment to overcome barriers and change their lifestyle.
• Requires considerable commitment of time and energy.
• Needs external motivation (i.e. a support network, a buddy system, hang around people who are “positive” thinkers and motivators).
• Greatest risk of relapse or reverting to old patterns of behavior during this stage. Remember, a lapse does not mean failure — it’s a normal part of the change process.
• Benefits outweigh barriers.
Maintainenace : Sustained desirable behavior for more than 6 months. (“I still am”)
• Easier to maintain new behavior.
• New behavior is becoming a habit.
• Less chance of relapse, but is still possible. May have experienced periods of time when lapses occurred, but were successful in re-establishing the desired behavior.
• Benefits far outweigh the barriers.
Unfortunately, knowledge alone about the consequences of unhealthy habits is not enough to motivate people to change. True change comes from the renewing of the mind. Are you ready to change your mind?
— Denise E. Sullivan is with K-State Extension-Leavenworth County, where she is the Family & Consumer Sciences agent.