Changing our lifestyles means changing our behaviours, and we are all at different stages of the process. Some of us are more ready than others to change our behaviours, because of where we are on our ‘journey’. This article will look at the different stages of the process, to help you identify where you might be, and then some ideas to work on getting you to the next stage.
In the study of psychology, there is a term for this ‘journey’ and it is called the Transtheoretical Model, or Stages of Change model. It identifies clear categories of where a person may be on their journey.
Once we have identified where we are, we can start to work on moving along the model until we reach the point where our changed behaviour is the norm.
There are five stages of change identified by the Transtheoretical Model in relation to behaviour change for health, they are:
3. Preparation (Determination)
This is the stage where the individual has no desire or need for change, or they feel that change simply isn’t possible. This state applies to now and the near future, i.e the next 6 months.
For example, some older adults may believe that exercise is not good for a variety of health conditions (running is bad for knees?) and that exercise should decline with age. Some could be overwhelmed by barriers to exercising, such as embarrassment, or low confidence – it’s a big deal to join a class or group.
A way to move forward from this stage would be to gather information about their own health and what improvements could be made through change, look at the risks associated with current behaviour and to look at different possibilities of change – i.e what could change look like?
We feel that more quality information, such as the impact of their own weight on other family members or having a large number of inspirational role models (to give belief/confidence) may help to move more people out of this stage and onto the next, which is ‘Contemplation’.
In this stage there is some desire to make some changes, perhaps in the next 6 months, but there’s also a bit of procrastination going on. Everybody at Be Strong has been here. This is where you have decided to check out some information and advice to help you lose weight or become healthier and fitter. You might not be ready to change right now but you are giving serious thought about it in the very near future.
In this stage you are definitely aware of the ‘pros’ of making changes, but you are also very aware of the ‘cons’. i.e. ‘I know losing weight will help to ease the aches and pains in my joints, reduce my diabetes risk and make me feel happier but!!!! I really like eating cheese boards, chocolate biscuits and take-aways.’
To move forward from this point it is a good idea to create a list of pros and cons associated with the particular behaviour change you want to make, and weigh them up. Assign a score of how important each point is to you, so you can start to visualise, what your real priorities are. Hopefully the pros scores will outweigh the cons scores. Next, identify anything that might get in the way of you making the changes, and write those down too. As you write them down you will naturally start to think about potential solutions, which takes us to the next step, ‘Preparation’.
Preparation is the stage when you are actively planning to make a change which is imminent. The first steps start to take shape, possibly a pair of trainers might be dusted down, the gym kit comes out, lettuce, veg, fish and chicken jump into your shopping trolley and you may even sign up for a group like Be Strong.
Unfortunately, at this stage many people are lost in the first weeks. We’ve lost count of the number of conversations we’ve had with people who are going to change their lives, this is the time, there’s no going back, they’re giving it everything they’ve got – then we don’t see them after a couple of sessions as they’re not able to stay motivated, committed or the mind isn’t strong enough to make sacrifices.
You know what the single common denominator here is? Time. They just didn’t give it long enough. If I have a message for any of you here who are in this stage it’s to stay connected. If it doesn’t happen for you straight away I can guarantee at some point in the very near future it will, we have proof of it within our groups. Just stick around, if you don’t stay connected you are not giving up on the group – you are giving up on yourself, and you’re too important for that.
What would be a great move here to help get us along to the next phase, would be to develop a strong SMART goal and SMART action plan to achieve it. This goal and plan would include all the resources and strategies that you need to make the changes. This might include discussing with friends and family about your plans and getting your support team around you. It may mean organising childcare or dog sitting, so that you can have some time for yourself to attend a group or the gym, or go for a walk. It might mean deciding on what your daily or weekly routine might be – when will you cook meals, what will you eat, when will you do the other things that must be done: washing, paying bills, going to work, etc, etc. All this needs to be considered at this point, so that your chances of success, when you move onto ‘Action’ are maximised.
This stage is where you put your plans into action and get cracking with developing your new pattern of behaviour.
It is helpful here to agree what your motivation is – it could be that you want to make your children proud and you want them to follow your example. It could be that you want to rekindle a relationship with an old flame. It could be that you just want to be happier.
The goal here is to stay in the game long enough for it to start to make a difference. You need to see that the cons list – i.e the sacrifices that you are having to make, are worth the benefits on the pros list. This period lasts at least six months, and throughout that period you need to check in on your plans and goals, to make sure you are doing what you said you would do, and achieving what you want to achieve. If you aren’t, review the plans and goals and make some tweaks to continue to maximise your chances of success.
You might master the changes in one particular area of life – home, for instance. Once you have done that, move on to mastering it in your work life and social life, so that eventually you behave the ‘new way’, in all areas of your life.
Then you just keep on keeping on. Once you have cracked the ‘Action’ stage, and you stick at it long enough we move on to the Holy Grail of Behaviour Change -‘Maintenance’.
Now, strangely enough this isn’t where you have achieved your target or goal,and we maintain our weight. This is actually where you have consistently, for at least 6 months, changed your behaviours and they are now a habit or ‘the norm’ for you. This is about maintenance of behaviours!! At this stage you should be happy that if you continue doing what you are doing, then you will be successful at whatever your long term target or goal is.
In this stage your new behaviours and ‘skills’ will be transferable to all areas of your life and other situations. You are your new behaviour! For instance, you will be able to make healthy choices when eating out in restaurants, not just at home. You won’t feel compelled to ‘go large’, or even place an order at all, when you take the kids for a MacDonalds treat.
There will still be risks – simple things like a change in season or weather – extremely relevant if you have exercised outdoors all summer. When you are in ‘maintenance mode’, you will have a plan to help you to avoid relapse – you will automatically consider these potential risks to your continued success and come up with a plan to minimise those risks.
It’s easier maintaining new behaviours than starting them from scratch again. If relapse comes then don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s to be expected. It’s a rollercoaster of a journey, I haven’t met a single person whose journey has been anything else.
If you find yourself in relapse, we just start the journey again from wherever we find ourselves, and start to move ourselves along the continuum again. What would be helpful when we relapse, is to make sure we’re in the right place when this happens so you can bounce straight back. Stay connected to Be Strong – we all go through ups and downs on this journey, no-one is perfect and no-one is here to judge. Just know that the Be Strong community is here to support you, whatever stage of the journey you are on.
Be Strong is for life – it’s not a programme or a plan, it’s just how it is.
Consider what stage you are at on the Stages of Change model and what you might need to do to get you along to the next.
If you need any help with it, give us a shout or a message, we are quite happy to help you navigate your way through.