Happy 2019! Do you have high hopes for change? We are only a few days in and some of you are already upset that you have fallen short of a New Year’s resolution. Others are thinking, it’s time to make this year different. But if change is on your mind, you need to be aware of something important that will determine your success.
Change is a process for most of us. It happens when we are motivated internally. Oh yes, we can know in our heads that change is needed. We can have good intentions. We can feel pressure from those around us. But our success only comes if we are in the right stage of change. Consider these stages and determine where you honestly are in the change process. This stages were developed by Prochaska and DiClemente in 1983 and are very accurate in predicting how well people will change because they get at your motivation. Without motivation, it is hard to make changes and stick to them.
Determine where you might be with a New Year’s resolution you made. Are you really ready both mentally and behaviorally? If you aren’t ready for ACTION, you could fail and need to look at what is blocking you from being successful.
1) Precontemplation-This is the first stage of change. You may not be ready to even tackle something others think you need to do. You have not given it much thought. It’s barely on your radar. And when you are completely honest, you think, “This is not that big of a problem. For example, you may need to stop smoking but think, “Hey my dad smoked and lived to be 80. I don’t think it is a big deal.” If you don’t see a behavior as a problem, don’t put it on your change list. Instead, begin to explore why others think you should change. Are there reasons to make changes and are you in denial?
2) Contemplation–This is where most New Year resolutions fail. You know something in your life needs to be different. For example, you need to drop those 20 pounds and you are thinking about it. But you are not completely convinced down deep. You can see positive reason to change, but then also see a number of reasons not to make a change. Make a list of pros and cons. For example, I like to eat and don’t want to deprive myself of food (PRO). But I feel bad when I can’t fit into my clothes (CON). Part of the work is to have the PROs outweigh the CONs. Again, you have to be honest. People don’t easily give up bad habits because they like some of the benefits of those habits.
3) Preparation–Once you feel the PROs outweighs the CONs, it is time to stop thinking and start acting. This means you’ve got to be intentional and develop ways to make changes that are small, behavioral and attainable. And this means thinking about the barriers to change and how you can overcome them. One patient I worked with really wanted to stop drinking, but she lived behind a liquor store. She decided if she was going to be successful at her goal, she would need to move. Seeing that liquor store everyday out her window was too tempting. Now, you may not need to do something as dramatic as moving, but figure out what blocks your change efforts and make preparations to overcome those obstacles.
5) Maintenance/Relapse–This is probably the most difficult part of change. Think about this applied to weight loss. Most of us know what to do to lose weight, but keeping it off means preventing relapse and understanding WHY we do what we do. Otherwise, we revert to old behavior. We tend to do what is comfortable, not always the best for us. So if you’ve dropped a few pounds, start thinking about what it will take to keep those pounds off. Will you need to address emotional eating? Will you need to go to a gym or find an exercise partner? Will you need to modify food portions? etc. Maintenance means keeping the change going despite the difficulties. If you relapse, look at the barriers to change again. What is getting in your way that you didn’t anticipate? Fix those obstacles and try again.
If you are not at the ACTION phase, a New Year’s resolution will feel like one more failed attempt that had good intentions behind it. If have already failed, regroup, review what is involved in change and ask yourself, “Am I ready to commit to the process?” Are there still too many PROs and CONs for me to change? If you find yourself in Contemplation, you have more work to do to move yourself forward. Go back and wrestle with your motivation until you see more benefit to change than staying where you are.