The Behavioral Change Process
We recently discussed SMART Goal setting as an extremely useful tool for reaching our health goals. However, it is unusual to successfully change for good without a few hiccups along the way, and most people find that they relapse into old habits from time to time.
However, if this happens to you, try not to worry! It's best to think of the process as a learning curve and to make it your aim to gain as much as you can from the experience.
What stage in the behavioral change process are you currently at?
Research has shown that we go through a number of different stages, as we attempt to change our behaviors. These include:
- Pre-contemplation - Not ready to change
- Contemplation - Thinking about change
- Preparation - Getting ready to make a change
- Action - Making changes, taking action
- Maintenance - Sustaining change until it becomes part of your lifestyle
- Relapse - Slipping back to previous behaviors and re-entering the cycle of change
- Termination - Leaving the cycle of change
What stage are you currently at on the change process?
Accepting your need to change
Your doctor may have told you that you have a particular health problem, however you need to ask yourself, "Do I really believe/agree that I have this problem?" If you can't see what your doctor is concerned about you probably won't have the willpower to make any lifestyle changes, at least not long-term changes.
Are you ready for change?
To successfully make changes in our lifestyle, the change must be important to us personally. Ask yourself, "How will I benefit personally if I change my lifestyle?" For example if you say, "I want to lose weight for my upcoming holiday," this is usually not a good enough reason. Unfortunately, following their holiday, many find that they're back to square one in terms of motivation to continue. A better example would be, "I want to lose weight so that I can see my children grow up."
Also, consider the fact that ‘now' may not be the right time for you to change. Ask yourself, "Are there factors in my life right now which will make following a healthy lifestyle difficult?" It can be very disheartening to attempt change, only to find that you're unable to achieve what you wanted. Therefore, give some consideration to any circumstances, which may present a challenge or a hindrance to you at present. Perhaps you can try again in one week or a month's time.
Were you successful in achieving your goals?
The final step is to access how you did at reaching your goals. Were you successful? Did you set unachievable goals? Did something else hinder your progress? For example, your health, friends, family, or work? If you were successful, congratulations! Remember to reward your successes.
Past experiences will probably have taught you how easy it is to slip back into old habits, and for most it takes months for a new behavior to become a way of life. Therefore, try not to be discouraged if you relapse, and realize that it's all part of your journey - tomorrow is a new day!
1) Accept that your lifestyle needs to change
2) Stay positive, focus on your progress, not your shortcoming
3) Set realistic goals
4) Prepare for relapses
5) Access how successful you've been in reaching your goals
6) Reward your success
However, it's not always easy to make changes without guidance or advice. Our site expert, Melanie Thomassian, offers practical tips for setting and achieving goals that will help improve your health. (Read her previous post on "Setting SMART Goals.")
Also, read Mel's "Six Basic Steps to a Healthier Heart" for easy ways to incorporate heart friendly nutrients into your diet.
Melanie Thomassian is the author of Dietriffic.com, an online resource for credible dietary advice, exercise tips, and much more!