Strategies for lifestyle changes: The stages of change

We all know that change doesn't just happen.  We go through different stages in our thinking and actions before we actually make change.  And knowing what stage we are in, can help us understand why we haven't quite made the change we want.


There are 6 stages of change described in the work of Prochaska and DiClemente (1986, 1992).  These are:
  1. Precontemplation - no intention to change in the unforeseeable future; unaware a problem exists
  2. Contemplation - aware a problem exists; seriously thinking of change; some ambivalence
  3. Preparation - intending to act in the next month; reduced ambivalence and exploration of options
  4. Action - taking action through modification of behavior, experiences or environment
  5. Maintenance - work to prevent relapse and consolidate gain
  6. Relapse - a recurrence of the undesired behavior or elimination of a desired behavior

Obviously, not everyone goes into relapse, but the goal, if you do, is to move back through the stages again and find the motivation to try again.  

As well as thinking about these stages and our own motivation, they are also useful to consider when we are trying to help others find their own motivation for change.  For example, if you have a spouse who is very overweight and it is affecting their health, you want them to make changes but maybe they are in the precontemplation stage.  What can you do to help move them into the contemplation stage?



Here are some ideas that may help:
In the precontemplation stage

  • phrase questions like "have you thought about......"; 
  • explore issues of "importance" and "confidence"
  • discuss past 'failures' and reframe them as learning experiences
  • heighten awareness but also provide options for reducing fear
     if these tactics don't work - just wait.

In the contemplation stage
  • provide information and facts
  • discuss outcome if there is no change
  • discuss alternatives
  • set a short term goal
     if these tactics don't work - keep reminding

In the preparation stage
  • discuss options
  • set a time and date to just do it
  • find a partner/club also wanting to make the change
     if these tactics don't work, provide evidence that underpins your concern

As you can see, if you use the suggestion for the preparation stage on someone who is pre-contemplation, you aren't going to get very far - and vice versa.

Aim to ask questions and listen more than give your point of view or tell them what to do.  Brain storm ideas together, discuss pros and cons etc.   And you can do this for yourself too....take some paper and start writing ideas or two columns - one with pros for change and one with cons for change.


What stage of change are you in right now?

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Strategies for making diet and lifestyle changes: Part 1. Motivate yourself daily

This is the first of a series of blog posts about different strategies that will help you make changes to your diet and lifestyle.  While we may have a diet all planned out, the kitchen stocked and know what we should be doing, sometimes our head gets in the way and the thoughts we have can sabotage our plans. So each week, we'll look at a different strategy for coping with changes.  We'll try and figure out what to say to ourselves, when we have sabotaging, unhelpful thoughts.


To start off, we'll look today at how to motivate yourself daily.  You can start using this even before you make any diet and lifestyle changes.  Its all about reminding yourself of why you want to lose weight or increase exercise or stop smoking/drinking or.....whatever change you are contemplating.

Maybe you are thinking that you don't need reminding - you'll always remember.   But that's not always the case when temptation arises or you start thinking the following kind of thoughts:

  • it's okay if I eat this
  • it doesn't really matter
  • I've been good all day
  • Just a little bit
  • It's too hard to resist
  • Just a little taste
  • I deserve it
  • Everyone else is eating it
To combat these thoughts or visual temptations, you need to have a written compelling list of reasons as to why you are making these changes.  And then you need to read this list regularly several times each day.

Examples of reasons or the advantages these changes will make in your life could be:
  • losing weight will improve my self confidence
  • I'll feel much more at ease with my partner if I lose some weight
  • I'll be able to join in family activities better without getting puffed and exhausted so quickly
  • I'll be proud of myself for my achievement
  • I can bend down without groaning
  • My health will improve
  • I'll be able to get off/reduce my medication
  • I'll look better
  • I'll feel better about myself
  • I won't have to worry about diabetes
  • I'll be able to go up the steps
  • I won't feel self conscious when I go into a room of strangers
  • I'll enjoy shopping for clothes
  • I can wear more fashionable clothes
  • My husband will stop nagging me
Whatever your reasons are for making the changes you want to make, write them out on one or more index cards. List them all.  Using an index card means that they are all listed on something small enough that you can carry with you. You can put it in a pocket, or a purse or handbag.  

When you've done this - read the card every morning before you have breakfast to create a reminder for the day ahead.  As you read them, think about achieving every advantage. Reading actually makes you reflect more, rather than just recalling them in your head - so take that minute or two and read through each one.  If other advantages occur to you, add them to the list as the days go by.

Now you need to read them again at least once or twice during the day, so consider putting reminders like a sticky note in the kitchen or bathroom or in the car, saying something like "take 30 seconds".  This will act as your reminder to read the list again, and reinforce your motivations. 

You may find yourself resisting reading the cards, but use those reminders and take those few seconds, as the more you do it, not only do you continue to motivate yourself, but you will also build your self-discipline. Go find some index cards now and start writing your "Advantages Card".


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A change in perspective

If things aren't looking good, or something in life is tricky - take a look from a different angle and different perspective - like this little birdie!


Hanging upside down means he can get to all the lovely insects he wants but he just couldn't get them when he was the right way up.
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10,000 Steps

I've been doing 10,000 steps now for just over a year!  If you don't know, 10,000 steps is a walking program where your goal is to walk 10,000 steps every day.



Just about every day, I put on my fitbit to measure the number of steps I take, and get out there walking.



About 1/3 of the year in, I decided to change my goal from 10,000 steps a day to 70,000 steps a week.  I found that some days I just didn't have the time for 10,000 steps, yet could easily make up a few thousand on another day that week.  By changing to a weekly goal, I didn't feel bad when I didn't reach my daily goal, and in fact was motivated to make sure I kept up the weekly goal.

I've probably only forgotten to put on my fitbit about 7 times in the whole 12 - 13 months!  It has just become a habit.

I'm not as fanatical about it all now, but part of that is because I just generally walk more than I used to, so reaching 10,000 isn't so difficult.

You're never to young to start!!..and it helps if you stick out your tongue :-D

For example, on Christmas day, it was a horrid wet day but we spent most of the morning talking on the phone to our family in England.  As I spoke on the phone, I walked constantly around the house.  By the time I got off the phone and we had spoken to everyone, I'd walked more than 8,500 steps!

So I encourage you to give it a try.  If you are new to exercise or walking, start with just measuring on a pedometer how many steps you normally take, and then set your goal at a little higher than that that seems like a stretch.  After you reach that goal, stretch yourself further and set a harder target and continue in this fashion.

I think it's time for me to have a new goal......
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