THE STAGES OF CHANGE
Any change we seek to implement, from adding more veggies, to working out a couple times per week is more complex than 'just do it'. There are actually 5 stages to any change that dictate our readiness for success. Knowing where you lie on this continuum helps you to not only know thyself, but also to script the critical moves to propel you down the line toward the physique you've always imagined.
In this stage people aren't even thinking about changing. They say things like 'I just can't stop smoking. I've tried but I can't'. Or 'I don't need to cut out all grains from my diet. People don't get fat just from eating bread'. This person will have a hard time making a change because they aren't even convinced that they need to.
In this stage a person is giving serious thought to changing a behavior, but has not yet started the process. A person in this stage may get in touch with a Personal Trainer or read a book about dieting. This stage is not a commitment however. This is dipping your toe in the pool to feel the water. Many people spend years in this stage without progressing. People in this stage will say things like 'I want to quit smoking', or 'I want to lose weight', but these things won't happen unless they progress to the next stage.
In the Preparation stage, a person is finally getting ready to take action. They have purchased a gym membership or gone shopping for healthy foods, and are ready to get started within the next month. The New Year's resolution crowd falls into this category. In this stage many people develop a goal of where they would like to be, for example, 'I would like to lose a dress size within the next 3 months' or 'I'm going to quit smoking this year'.
This is the stage where a person starts to implement his or her plan to reach their goals. Now the person is going to the gym 3 times per week, or starting their diet plan. This step is exciting. People in this stage will likely tell everyone about their new behavior and how it is making them feel. It is important to remember, however, that just because an action has started does not mean it will continue. Many people relapse and fall out of their new habits after a couple of weeks.
This is the last stage of change, and the one where the habits have become permanent. Now the person doesn't even have to decide between going to Popeyes or making a healthy dinner. The choices become automatic. Everyone is different, but once someone breaks through the 6-8 week mark, they have a much easier time maintaining a habit. The nice thing is, when habits become permanent we no longer have to expend so much willpower to stay the course. Can you imagine leaving your house without pants? It's a habit that has become automatic. Ingrain it enough, and exercise can become this automatic as well.
All of these stages are important to the development of a lasting change. An intelligent plan for change involves moving slowly towards the maintenance stage where habits are automatic. We all know someone who has an easy time living a healthy lifestyle. They cook a healthy dinner every night, never miss a workout, and make time to meditate before going to bed early with a smug smile on their face. How do they manage it? These behaviors have reached the maintenance phase where they no longer require conscious effort. Eating healthfully is easy for the person who does it all the time, and very difficult if only done every now and then. The goal is to make these healthy behaviors automatic. Progression through these stages can take a while, and the all or nothing approach is often unsuccessful. Understanding why a change is important to us, can help us to progress towards action, and make fitness as easy as putting on a pair of pants.