Yo-yo diets, New Year’s resolutions that don’t even last until the end of January, trying to learn that second language you have always dreamed about. We can start off with the best intentions, the best plans. But making something a life-long habit is not easy – especially when it takes effort, discipline, and motivation.
When things are tough, it is easy to start to slip back towards the old you,
But how can we focus ourselves and stay on the path towards positive change?
A prominent theory in psychology would suggest that the answer to that depends upon your stage of change.
When we change our habits, we naturally progress through different stages, each stage requiring different types of support to ensure that positive change is sustained and we avoid that ever-present temptation to relapse or quit.
Relapse, however, is not always bad, but provides an opportunity to learn what works for us.
We begin our journey towards long-term positive change at the pre-contemplation stage of the six stages of change, gradually progressing towards the maintenance stage where risk of relapse can still occur, but can be avoided. Staying in the maintenance stage is the primary aim – after all, we want to maintain our positive changes for life.
The stages of changes in action
To help understand the stages of change, let’s take a look at a real world example.
Beth has been gaining weight gradually over the space of 10 years. She has not considered it a problem until her doctor suggests that her weight may have a negative impact on her health and that she would benefit from doing more exercise. This comes as a shock and Beth begins to consider the benefits of exercise.
This highlights a significant point in Beth’s behaviour change, as before she had no intention of changing (Pre-contemplation), whereas following the appointment, Beth is now considering changing her behaviour (Contemplation stage).
Travelling home, Beth considers her options and decides to increase her daily step count and downloads an app that helps her to keep track of this. With her plan in mind Beth is prepared to start walking more (Preparation stage).
On her way to work each morning, Beth parks her car 15 minutes from her office and walks the remaining distance, gaining 30 extra minutes of walking per day and putting her plan into action (Action stage).
Several months later, Beth has continued this routine and has begun to enjoy walking, noticing that her steps have continually started to increase without conscious effort. She feels healthier, more energetic, and notices her weight begin to return to a healthy level. Beth is happy with these positive benefits and would like to continue her change (Maintenance stage).
Work and family commitments start to pile up and cause Beth stress. Feeling that she needed to work extra hours, Beth drives the full distance to work and misses out on her 30 minutes of walking. What began as one-time-only, started to become a weekly habit. Beth notices her steps and motivation gradually decrease (Relapse stage).
How can you make sure you don’t relapse?
Beth’s story is not uncommon and something I have experienced firsthand. The stages of change is a powerful guide that can help you identify your stage of change and what type of support will maximize your potential to maintain your behaviour, turning it from an intention into a life-long habit.
This series of posts aims to dive into each stage of change and the type of support that will help you, making sure that we don’t fall victim to relapse and that we are continually striving towards your true potential.
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Thanks for reading.