People change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.

Change AheadHave you thought about making changes to your health or wellness habits and been unsuccessful? If you are like, well, nearly everyone, your answer is likely to be yes. But why is it so hard to change, especially when it comes to long-term habits?

I think that January is a great time for changing health behaviors, as is February, March, and even September. Why not? When you’re ready to change, you’re ready, regardless of what the calendar says. And if January 1 spurs change, that’s fabulous. The real question is not what day is it, but are you ready for change, and why is changing important to you? Learning about the stages of behavior change can be helpful in developing strategies that will make achieving your health goals more successful.

Research has shown that self-change is a staged process, and that we may even be in different stages for different health behaviors. When thinking about adding or changing a health behavior, ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. Why do you want to change the behavior (what are the pros)?
  2. Why shouldn’t you change the behavior (what are the cons)?
  3. What would it take to change the behavior (what is your strategy)?

Depending on the stage you are in, you may want to put the emphasis on different questions. Let’s review the five stages of behavior change, more formally known as The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change, developed by Dr. James Prochaska.

Stage 1: Pre-contemplation. This is the “I can’t” or “I won’t” stage. People who feel that they can’t change a behavior would like to change the behavior but don’t think it’s possible, while those who won’t change are not interested in changing or they don’t think that there is a problem. If you are in this stage, you don’t need to be criticized for it, but as Thomas Leonard posited, practice “radical self-acceptance”. You are where you are, period, and it is entirely up to you when and even if you wish to change.

If you are an “I can’t” person, focus on overcoming the cons. Ask yourself why you think that you cannot successfully change and take the time to pursue any strategies that may improve your outlook. Sometimes just taking one small step in the direction you wish can be the beginning of a building of your self-efficacy, or your perception of your ability to be successful with change.

I’ve noticed in my practice that many women who were in elementary and high school prior to Title Nine (currently age 54 and over) frequently have low self-efficacy around athletics. They didn’t participate in sports when they were young, and consequently don’t think of themselves as athletes.

Another example is runners, specifically the label “runner”. While all that it takes to be a runner is to run, many people who run don’t think of themselves as “real” runners if they don’t compete, run fast, or run long distances. I’ve even known people who have completed a marathon who will vehemently try to convince me that they are not “real runners”. In many instances, the “I can’t” point of view is a belief, not a fact.

Maybe we just all need to not worry about labels and instead focus on taking steps – perhaps literally – toward our goals instead.

Next post: Stage 2: Contemplation (“I May”)