Need Change?

The New Year is here and so I immediately think of one thing: resolutions. Yes, this is the most popular time of year to reflect on what needs changing and make some commitments to that change. However beyond the resolutions themselves I am more interested in what happens after New Year’s and why so many of these promises become distant, unfulfilled memories by spring - only to be revisited at the same time next year. I’ve been there myself so many years, and usually it has to do with weight loss and/or more exercise. But last year, I got up and I did it. I stuck to my New Year’s resolution, and met my weight loss goal and continue on my path towards better fitness today. So what changed in me that allowed me to make that change in my life? In answer, I present a theory that I first learned about through my Psychology degree. It’s called the “Stages of Change” Theory and has been used to help individuals facilitate change in many areas of their lives, especially relating to health. I found an article that spoke in depth about how this theory relates to New Year’s resolutions, and it shows how well the model fits with this particular type of change. What I love about this particular model and why I’m presenting it you now is that it focuses on our decisions, and empowers us to recognize our own actions as they relate to successful change.

Photo courtesy of aresauburnâ„¢

There are 5 stages that the model describes (and I encourage you to think where you fit in here with your resolutions).

Precontemplation: In this stage, an individual is not really thinking about change in any meaningful way. They may not recognize a need for change, and usually motivation from somebody else or an event in their lives will get them from denying and ignoring the need for change to the next stage.

Contemplation: Here the individual thinks about change but in a very general sense. There’s no specific plan, but there is the recognition that change needs to happen- eventually. These might be the people that think “I’ll quit smoking- maybe in a few months when work and all the stress settles down.”

Preparation: In this stage, a person sees change as a real possibility, within the foreseeable future. They start assessing the risks versus benefits of new behaviors, and usually the benefits for them will start to outweigh the risks, and so they start to make a plan. Perhaps small steps here and there towards the end goal have already been taken.

Action: This stage is pretty self-explanatory- it’s where the action starts to happen. The plan gets put into place, and active, conscious behaviors towards the achievement of change occur. This may be where somebody buys that pack of Nicorette, starts going to the gym, goes to the grocery store to buy a new healthier grocery list for their home, etc. New Year’s Resolutions usually get made by people in the Preparation or Action phase, depending on how specific they get.

Maintenance: This stage is where maintenance of the desired change occurs for a long term (usually about 6 months or more). Here, an individual has recognized that the benefits of change outweigh the risks, and they are more assured of their ability to change and the reasons for that change. This is where going to the gym probably doesn’t seem like a chore anymore, and encouragement to continue comes from the positive reactions to that change from yourself and others.

Photo courtesy of Nicholas_T

I believe this model is a pretty accurate and tangible representation of how a person progresses in their thoughts and behaviors towards change. Also, I want you to set yourself up for success!! Don’t pressure yourself into moving through stages before you yourself are ready for that progression. Sarah Cooke perhaps said it best in her recent L &P blog where she encouraged us to pursue our resolutions for our own reasons- because we value ourselves and want to improve our own quality of life. Don’t do it because it’s something people expect you to do. If you’re not ready to change, don’t force it, but I do encourage you to reflect on the reasons behind that reluctance. If you are ready to change, make a commitment! Bobbi Jo Rohrberg made a strong statement to me with her piece “Say Goodbye to Maybe” and it resonates with how you can progress through the stages of change.

So I offer you this: simply thinking about which of these stages you might fit into for your resolution may help progress you to the next stage. What I mean is being more conscious of your own motivations and your own readiness to change is part of that self-awareness aspect of moving through the stages and gradually to a place where you will fulfill and maintain that New Year’s Resolution. From the articles I read, a few other things you can do to move yourself to the next stage are: make small, realistic changes (instead of resolving to lose 30 lbs., maybe break it down and resolve to go the gym at least once a week in January); make a plan for “relapse”- it happens to the best of us, but at least you can be prepared for it if it does happen, and not let it get you down; continue evaluating the benefits and disadvantages of the change to you and your life, even if you’ve already begun or are maintaining the change.

So here’s to the changes in our lives that I hope will bring an exciting and dynamic year to us all.