Let’s face it–most of us know the key to living a healthy life is about making healthy life choices:
- Exercising daily
- Eating a nutritious diet
- Keeping your body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9
- Getting enough sleep
- Going the doctor for a yearly check-up on your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar; and when you reach that certain age getting mammograms and Pap smears and prostate exams;
- Not smoking
- Limiting alcohol to seven drinks a week
- Reducing stress
- Improving relationships
- Developing new interests
- Getting a hobby
But why is living a healthy life so hard for so many of us?
Why don’t we exercise daily? How come we can’t quit smoking? Why are we bored on our couches when we could be out living life? It’s hard to break old habits and, and in my opinion, it’s harder to adopt new ones.
Before making a Fresh Start in 2015 I think it is very important to understand how change happens and if you’re REALLY ready for change.
There are several behavioral change theories out there. And each theory has its strengths and weaknesses but all the theories have three elements in common:
- Individual action is the crux for change
- Change is a process not an event
- Setbacks are likely
Individual action is the crux for change
You have to be ready to make change happen. And, you have to be motivated by the right reasons. If you’re not ready, change likely won’t happen.
Guilt – Fear- Regret
A survey conducted in 2006 by the Economic and Social Research Council, a British research group confirmed that the least effective strategies for change were those that were based on fear or regret in the person attempting to make a change. Long-lasting change is most likely when it’s self-motivated and rooted in positive thinking.
In other word, the change you’re seeking is motivated by you, your wants and your desires and is stemmed from positive thinking.
Change is a process, not an event
As stated above there are several models of behavior change, but the one most widely applied and tested in settings related to healthy behaviors is the transtheoretical model (TTM). TTM presumes that at any given time, a person is in one of five stages of change: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, or maintenance.
The idea is that you move from one stage to the next. Each stage is a preparation for the following one, so hurrying through or skipping stages is likely to result in setbacks.
Below are the TTM stages of change and how you move through them:
Precontemplation. You have no conscious intention of making a change. Awareness and interest may be sparked by outside influences, such as stories in the media, emotional experiences, illness, or a family member’s concern.
To move past precontemplation, you must sense that the unhealthy behavior is at odds with important personal goals. For example, being healthy enough to travel .
Contemplation. You are aware that the behavior is a problem and are considering doing something about it, but you are still not committed to taking any action.
Ambivalence may lead you to weigh and re-weigh the benefits and costs: “If I stop smoking, I’ll lose that hacking cough, but I know I’ll gain weight,” or “I know smoking could give me lung cancer, but it helps me relax; if I quit, stress could kill me, too!
Preparation. You know you must change, you believe you can change, and you are making plans to change soon — say, next week or next month.
You’ve joined a health club, purchased nicotine patches, or added a calorie tracking app to your smartphone.
Action. You’ve changed!
You stopped smoking. You’re losing weight. You can run a mile. You’ve begun to experience the challenges of life without the old behavior.
Maintenance. You’ve practiced the new behavior for at least six months. Now you’re working to prevent relapse and integrate the change into your life.
The path from one stage to the next is not straightforward and unfortunately you might even relapse. When that happens you might find yourself back at the contemplation or preparation stage — or perhaps all the way back to precontemplation if the relapse was so demoralizing that you don’t even want to think about changing.
Don’t worry, it’s okay.
Experts conclude that any effort you make in a positive direction is worthwhile, even if you encounter setbacks or find yourself backsliding from time to time. Relapse is common, perhaps even inevitable. Some experts’ even think it is an integral part of the change process. You learn something about yourself each time you relapse. For example, you may find that the strategy you adopted didn’t fit into your life or suit your priorities. Next time, you can use what you learned, adjust, and be a little ahead of the game as you continue on the pathway to change.
Are you Ready for change?
So where are you at? Are you ready for a Fresh Start in 2015? Are you ready for change? If you are, come back tomorrow. I’ll be talking about how to prepare for change and setting goals.
The majority of this post was adapted from the following two articles:
The articles referenced above were first printed in the January 2007 issue of the Harvard Women’s Health Watch. For more information or to order, please go to ttp://www.health.harvard.edu/womens.