This blog is about how we actually make changes in our lives. So many people tell me that they want to make improvements to their health and wellness but they are “just not ready”. When I explore this more with them, I almost always recognize that they feel they have to change everything (their eating, physical activity, stress management etc) all at once. This leads to overwhelm and a sense that it’s just not possible to improve their wellness. What people don’t realize is that we have to go through stages with each change we are trying to make, before it becomes a habit and a sustainable part of our lifestyle. I thought it would be helpful to list these stages of change, along with an example to make it clearer. These stages were developed by James Prochaska, as a way to talk about recovery from Substance Use Disorder (what we used to call Addiction). The stages have been adapted over the years and apply to any behavioral change we are trying to make.
I am going to use “Reducing my Sugar consumption to 25 grams or less per day” as my example. This is an example of the kind of SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound) that I might have a Client set. Fitting this goal into the Stages of Change would look something like:
Stage 1: Pre-Contemplation - The person has no interest in reducing their sugar. They might not be aware that sugar is detrimental to health. They might be aware of this but don’t think they can change anything. Or they might be aware but they just don’t care and don’t want to make the change.
Stage 2: Contemplation – The person recognizes that too much sugar is damaging to health and has some interest in reducing their intake. But they aren’t sure how to go about it, they have challenges to making this change (like emotional eating or family members not being cooperative). Part of them wants to reduce their sugar but part of them doesn’t want to give up their treats. They are ambivalent.
Stage 3: Preparation – At this stage, the person has decided that they want to try to reduce their sugar. They have connected with some reasons why it will be beneficial and they are motivated to do it. They have addressed some of the challenges and made a plan for overcoming them (such as having fresh fruit ready if they want something sweet or informing family members that there will no longer be as many sweets in the house). The person is preparing to make the change
Stage 4: Action – The person is actively “living the change”. They have reduced their sugar intake to 25 grams or less per day, or whatever specific goal they set.
Stage 5: Maintenance – The person has maintained this habit for 6 or more months and it has become part of their lifestyle for good (hopefully).
So you can see that “all or nothing” thinking is really not realistic when it comes to changing behavior. Being ready to change takes time and working through these stages, slowly and carefully, so it can ultimately become a sustainable part of someone’s lifestyle. Part of my job as a coach is to meet people where they are and help them through these stages. So, if someone doesn’t feel ready to reduce sugar, eat more veggies, move their body more or whatever the behavior is, coaches help them work through the stages until they do feel ready. A challenging process but one that is well worth doing, whether you work with a coach or do it on your own. If you are doing it on your own, some tips to try are:
1. Set a SMART goal for yourself, so you can measure what you want to achieve.
2. Weigh the Pros and Cons of making the change. Ask yourself “what would it take to make the Pros outweigh the Cons".
3. Identify the challenges you see to making the change and brainstorm some solutions.
4. Visualize how you would feel (mentally, physically, spiritually) if you made the change. How would it benefit you?
5. At all times, be Mindful of your thoughts and feelings around making the change, with no judgement. Be on the lookout for that "all or nothing" thinking and return your focus to the specific goal you have set.
And always remember, be kind to yourself, no matter what! Reach out here if you have questions or want to book a free chat.