You want better health, you want more energy and focus, you want to lose weight, you want to kick old unhealthy habits and create new healthier ones – Great!
We at Vibrant Living have exhausted the notion that there is not magic pill that will give you better health, but there is a ‘lifestyle’ change that will help you achieve a vibrant quality of life! Unhealthy habits are hard to break and new habits take time and effort.
As you embark on your journey of Vibrant Living, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s never a glorious rise to the top! In fact, we go through several stages and bumps in the road before we can achieve long term, stable change.
Below we’re going to go through the Stages of Change Model, or SCM. SCM explains the mind/body stages we go through when we make changes in our life, weather it’s developing new habits or kicking old ones. The SCM model has been applied to a broad range of behaviours including weight loss, overcoming alcohol, and drug problems among others.
The idea behind the SCM is that behaviour change does not happen in one step. Rather, people tend to progress through different stages on their way to successful change and each of us progresses through the stages at our own rate. Moreover, each person must decide for himself or herself when a stage is completed and when it is time to move on to the next stage. MOST importantly, this decision to change must come from the inside, and not because someone is asking us to change or wants us to change… as per the popular saying ‘We can’t change others but we can change ourselves!”
The Stages of Change
As we work through the stages of change I will use the example of starting an exercise program (new healthy habit) for the purpose of trying to lose weight
Stage One: Precontemplation
In the precontemplation stage, people are not thinking seriously about changing and are not interested in any kind of help. People in this stage tend to defend their current bad habit(s) and do not feel it is a problem. They do not focus their attention on their bad habit and tend not to discuss their bad habit with others. This stage is often referred to as the “denial” stage.
This person sees no problem with getting absolutely no exercise; this person will drive two blocks to the corner store because they wouldn’t even consider the idea of walking.
Stage Two: Contemplation
In the contemplation stage people are more aware of the personal consequences of their bad habit and they spend time thinking about their problem. They are able to consider the possibility of changing and are weighing the pros and cons of quitting or modifying their behaviour. It might take as little as a couple weeks or as long as a lifetime to get through the contemplation stage. (In fact, some people think and think and think about giving up their bad habit and may die never have gotten beyond this stage).
Here the individual recognizes that if they don’t start exercising and losing weight they could die at a young age of a heart attack like their father did, or they may not be able to play with their kids because it’s too painful on their joints. They may also feel it’s impossible to get back on track, or it’s too painful to even try, or perhaps they’ve tired before and failed and they don’t want to fail yet another time.
Stage Three: Preparation/Determination
In the preparation/determination stage, people have made a commitment to make a change. Their motivation for changing is reflected by statements such as: “I’ve got to do something about this – this is serious. Something has to change. What can I do?”
People in this stage are trying to gather information about what they will need to do to change their behaviour and what resources are available to help them make this change.
Now the individual is calling different fitness club inquiring about cost or programs. They may ask friends or family what they did to get back in shape. They maybe are looking at their schedule to see when they could fit exercise into their day.
Too often, people skip this stage: they try to move directly from contemplation into action and fall flat on their faces because they haven’t adequately researched or accepted what it is going to take to make this major lifestyle change.
Stage Four: Action/Willpower
This is the stage where people believe they have the ability to change their behaviour and are actively involved in taking steps to change their bad behaviour by using a variety of different techniques.
This is the shortest of all the stages. It generally lasts about 6 months, but it can literally be as short as one hour! This is a stage when people most depend on their own willpower. They are making overt efforts to quit or change the behaviour and are at greatest risk for relapse.
Mentally, they review their commitment to themselves and develop plans to deal with both personal and external pressures that may lead to slips. They may use short-term rewards to sustain their motivation, and analyze their behaviour change efforts in a way that enhances their self-confidence. People in this stage also tend to be open to receiving help and are also likely to seek support from others (a very important element).
Here the individual is using their new gym membership. They are choosing to go to the gym right after work because they know that if they come home they will get distracted. They find a reliable friend to go to the gym with so they have extra support, and they find ways to reward themselves for their hard work!
Stage Five: Maintenance
Maintenance involves being able to successfully avoid any temptations. They are able to anticipate the situations in which a relapse could occur and prepare coping strategies in advance. The goal of the maintenance stage is to maintain the new status quo. People in this stage tend to remind themselves of how much progress they have made and remind themselves what they are striving for is personally worthwhile and meaningful. Here people may have thoughts of returning to their old bad habits, they resist the temptation and stay on track.
This individual will be able get through the holiday season or go on vacation without gaining 10 lbs because they have anticipated the temptations involved and have set out strategies before hand, such as picking a resort with a gym, choosing one course of a dinner party to indulge in instead of indulging in the whole meal.
It is common to cycle through the five stages several times before achieving a stable life style change – thus, relapse is considered a normal part of change.
The risk with relapse is that it can really make you feel like a failure and give you little confidence to get back on track. On the flip side, by analyzing how the slip happened, relapses can be an important opportunity for learning and becoming stronger by finding better coping strategies for the next time a high stress situation arises or one is faced with temptation.
Eventually, if you “maintain maintenance” long enough, you will reach a point where you will be able to work with your emotions and understand your own behaviour and view it in a new light. In this stage, not only is your bad habit no longer an integral part of your life but to return to it is not an option.
- Precontemplation (Not yet acknowledging that there is a problem behaviour that needs to be changed)
- Contemplation (Acknowledging that there is a problem but not yet ready or sure of wanting to make a change)
- Preparation/Determination (Getting ready to change)
- Action/Willpower (Changing behaviour)
- Maintenance (Maintaining the behaviour change)
- Relapse (Returning to older behaviours and abandoning the new changes)
- Transcendence (Bad habits are no longer a integral part of your life – returning to old ways is not an option)
As you progress through your own stages of change, it can be helpful to re-evaluate your progress in moving up and down through these stages. Remember relapsing is normal and don’t let it paralyze you! Relapsing is like falling off a horse – the best thing you can do is get right back on again.