“At any given time, about only 20 percent of people needing to change an unhealthy behavior are actually prepared and ready to do so,” says Dr. Janice M. Prochaska who is the CEO of Pro-Change Behavior Systems.
There are stages of change and many emotions that accompany what stage of change you are in. According to the Transtheoretical Model (TTM), individuals go through six stages – precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and termination. Someone who is in pre-contemplation will often avoid subjects about making a change, deny that the issue is a problem and tune out. Contemplators will listen to pros and cons about change but tend to find both pros and cons equally compelling and may need a catalyst to see how the benefits outweigh the negatives. Once preparation has been reached, a person is thinking about how to make the change work and doing things to prepare for it to begin. Questions like, what can I do to remove the cigarettes from the house or give away the bags of candy bars to others, come up. There may still be fear and doubt, but activities to begin the change process are happening. The action stage is where change activities are common, and the person requires lots of external support and guidance to keep taking small actions toward the future change.
Maintenance means you have been at it for six months and the obsessive-compulsive thoughts or worrying about how to make the change have subsided. Now, the new behavior is routine but still requires some attention. The final stage of termination means that several years have gone by and the once new behavior is old hat, as they say.
To get through a change, knowing what to expect makes a world of difference. Chances are you will go through feelings of doubt, fear, anger, trepidation, sadness, lack of confidence and more. And these emotions do not occur sequentially. It is not like you get through fear and move onto anger. In fact, you can have all emotions hit you at once which can feel overwhelming. At these stages, being gentle with yourself and checking that your expectations are realistic is critically important. Making a change is a lot like peeling an onion on so many levels. It may even make you cry, but those tears are an expected part of the process and not anything to deny or let embarrass you. Does telling yourself not to cry while you are peeling an onion work? No. That is because it is a physiological process that you are not in control of stopping or starting. What if you looked at the changes you make in your life in a similar fashion? The American Council on Exercise suggests that when you are making lifestyle changes like starting an exercise program or changing your eating habits, that you set clear and reasonable expectations. They recommend using SMART goals – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Psychology Today recommends that you take time to congratulate yourself on your short-range and long-range accomplishments, expect to have missteps, and “focus on your why.” Instead of focusing on why you cannot do something, think about why you can make the change. They also recommend having a support person or more to keep you accountable.
And as Michael P. Kelly and Mary Barker say in their article entitled, Why Is Changing Health-Related Behavior So Difficult?, “Moreover the behaviors which need to be changed are sustained and nurtured by highly profitable industries selling goods which make people ill – sugar rich, energy dense fatty foods and alcoholic beverages as well, of course, as tobacco.” So, are you ready? That is the question that you need to ask yourself before making a lifestyle change and just the process of asking sets you off on the journey.