If you’ve ever tried to quit smoking, lose weight, exercise regularly, or kick a candy, coke, or caffeine habit, you know how difficult behavior change is. And here comes New Year’s Eve again, ready to shame us with all our jilted resolutions from last year. Sure, we all have changes we’d like to make in our lives, but before you dive into the resolution rapids, step back and see if you’re really ready to make that change. Even more important, is there another change closer to your grasp?
Understanding the change process can be key to achieving lasting change. Lasting behavior change takes a commitment of time, energy, and emotion, so looking at the factors associated with change can help answer that proverbial actor’s question “what’s my motivation” and influence your success.
Stages of Change
When we decide to make a change, we generally do it in stages, and the stage we’re in can greatly influence our success. I see this regularly with my clients who struggle with weight loss or fitness goals. And even though the well-known Stages of Change Model (right) emerged from 1970’s research on ways smokers overcome that addiction, the premise is relevant to any behavior change, including those involving exercise and diet. Indeed, change doesn’t happen in one step, a truth that runs counter to the “now-I’m-all-in” thinking that characterizes New Year resolutions. Instead, we progress through a series of stages on the way to real change, each of us moving along at our own pace, finding in ourselves when a stage is completed and we are ready to move to the next step.
Start by pondering and answering for yourself two questions:
- What behavior do you want or need to change, and 2. Where are you on the path to doing so? Below you will read some helpful hints for locating where you are in the change process and learning how to identify and pluck your “low-hanging fruit” as a starting point.
As you can see by the above diagram of the change model, there are typically six stages of change, but they are not linear, for we tend to travel back and forth on this continuum on the way to sustainable change. So, which stage sounds most like you right NOW with regard to your answer to question 1 above?
|Stage of Change||Characteristics|
|Pre-contemplation||Not currently considering change: “Ignorance is bliss.”
I don’t have a behavior I need to change.
|Contemplation||Ambivalent about change: “Sitting on the fence.”
Not considering change within the next month
I acknowledge I need to change a certain behavior, but I am not ready or not sure I want to do so.
|Preparation||Some experience with change and trying to change: “Testing the waters.”
Planning to act within 1 month
I am getting ready to make this needed change, and ready to make a commitment after I gather a little more information.
|Action||Practicing new behavior for 3-6 months
I am in the process of making the change and working around obstacles–mostly.
|Maintenance||Continued commitment to sustaining new behavior
Post-6 months to 5 years
I am sustaining the behavior change I made, but it takes effort–still I know worth it.
|Relapse||Resumption of old behaviors: “Fall from grace”
I have been reverting to previous behaviors and moving away from the new behavior–I need to recommit and get back to the strategies that worked for me before.
Picking “Ripe” Goals
Two major factors that influence a person’s readiness to change are “importance” and “self efficacy”. What value do you place on making this change? And how confident are you that you can do it? Sure, we all have grandiose goals, such as “I want to lose 50 lbs this year” or “I want to run a marathon by next fall.” But what are the smaller goals, or SMART goals that will get us there, step by step?
Below is a worksheet I created that may help you find this low-hanging fruit. I often use it with my clients to help them identify and accomplish smaller goals. Doing so makes them feel successful and, in turn, creates momentum to progress through the stages of change toward their big goal. Let’s say for purposes of illustration, that big goal is to lose 20 pounds. I have inserted some examples below to illustrate how to identify relevant SMART goals to go for, based on a 1-week time frame.
What change will you aim for this week?
|Strategies to maximize success||Confidence
|Reason for confidence score|
|A. Get up early and workout on the treadmill.||8||I will set my alarm for 5:30 and get up!||4||I tend to hit the snooze button and not get up.|
|B. Bring lunch to work instead of eating out.||7||I will pack it the night before||8||I’ve done this in the past successfully.|
|C. Track what I eat every day on myfitnesspal.||9||I will use the app on my phone and record what I eat immediately.||4||I start off strong and then start slacking off.|
What stands in the way of the change?
How big barrier?
|Strategies to overcome barrier(s)||Confidence
|Reason for confidence score|
|A. Hitting the snooze button.||9||I will make myself get up!||4||I am not a morning person.|
|B. I have to make time to shop to have stuff to pack.||4||I will make Sunday my shopping day and get what I need for the week.||8||I enjoy going to Costco on Sundays.|
|C. My tendency to drop the ball on recording what I eat.||8||I can record ahead of time what I plan to eat that day.||4||Still not sure I can maintain consistency.|
Looking at the SMART goals and barriers above, it makes sense to select those that have high importance and high confidence of success, both in making the change and in overcoming the obstacles that threaten it. Since the “packing lunch” change has a rather high rating of 7 in importance, a rating of just 4 in barrier size, and rating of 8 in both confidence fields, it is “riper” than the others listed—all of which are commendable goals but not yet “ripe for the pickin’.” (By the way, you can list more than one barrier for each goal, and you can always have more than one SMART goal that you’re working on.)
So, I invite you to try this exercise yourself and identify your own SMART goal or goals and then track your progress over the week in achieving it (them). Here’s a gold star in advance, because I know you can do it!
Keep moving, Jen