Why Changing a Behavior is So Hard and 3 Ways to Make it Easier For You.

We've all wanted to change or improve a behavior at some point. When I say behavior, in this case, I mean a habit or an action. Maybe you want to add in something to improve your health such as another glass of water or a vegetable at dinner. Maybe you wanted to reduce or eliminate a habit such as smoking or biting your nails. If you have decided at any point to change something you most likely have encountered some obstacles along the way. Let's break down why this is and what we can do to make it easier.

Change is HARD!

We are surrounded by routine. Some of us even thrive on it. To change a routine (even if it's for a good cause) takes effort. For some, the effort to change becomes the biggest barrier. For example, raise your hand if you had every intention to add more veggies into your diet. You buy all the leafy greens, orange things, and shredded whatnots, and bring them all home. With nothing but hope and intention radiating from you. Then, when it comes to be dinner time, you push the lettuce out of the way and make the same pasta dish you always make or grab take-out. After a week you realize, awww no...it's all spoiled and rotting in the fridge. So you toss it out and vow to do better next time.

Change is HARD! It's not always a lack of motivation that derails us. It can be the fact that doing something out of routine takes focus, intention, and more brain power. For those who are already frazzled from life or kids or work and now are HUNGRY...that's not exactly a winning combination for implementing a new habit. Of course you are going to resort to the routine you know. It's easy. It takes little thought. And you know it works for you to accomplish the task. 

What you may not know about change

What most people don't realize is that change is a process, not a single action. There are actually 5 stages of change as identified in the Transtheoretical Model developed by James Prochaska and Carlo Di Clemente. Also known as the Stages of Change, this model shows that a person at any given time will be in one of these 5 stages in relation to a behavior they want to change. They must pass through each stage before moving onto the next and sometimes, a person can go back a stage and stall out on the changing of a behavior. 

Let's break down the stages, shall we?

Pre-contemplation: In this stage the desire to change is zero. It's not something the person wants to do. The lack of desire may be due to not understanding the benefits of the changed behavior, a need for more education around the behavior, or, sadly, a history of trying to change and failing. 

How to move to the next stage: get educated! Read more about the behavior that you want to change. Understand and learn about the consequences of not changing. Think about what you potentially could miss out on if you don't change. For example, "if I don't start walking regularly, I won't be able to play games with the kids in the yard."

Contemplation: In this stage the person may be more aware that the behavior is becoming a problem or prevents them from doing something they desire to do. The commitment to change the behavior is still not there but it could be something the person is starting to think about. 

How to move to the next stage: Pros and Cons lists are good at this point. Write out the pros and cons of changing the behavior. Then really look at each item on that list. The "cons" are what's keeping you from changing. These are the barriers you perceive. Analyze each one of these and determine at least 1-2 solutions to overcome these. For example: If your goal is to walk 5 days per week for 30 minutes and you write a "con" as "not enough time", your 1-2 solutions could be: 1. I will wake up 30 minutes earlier each day to walk. 2. I will park my car in the far parking ramp so I have to walk 15 minutes to the building and 15 minutes back to my car. 

Preparation: In this stage, you have decided to change. You know you need to and you are ready to take the first steps to doing so. Depending on your desired change, this could mean that you enlist a friend to walk with, or you buy new walking shoes, or you make a Pin board of easy and healthy dinners to make. This stage is all about planning and preparing and part of that should be anticipating barriers. Take a peek again at your "Cons" list. These are your anticipated barriers. Having a plan for each one will eventually weaken their barrier strength. Always know that unexpected things will happen so having a back up plan can be helpful. For example: you decide to train for a 5k. Anticipate what you will do if it's raining outside during the time you set aside to run. Do you have access to a treadmill or indoor track? Can you do a different type of workout video? Can you check the weather and change your time that you train for that day?

How to move to the next stage: Create a detailed action plan for your goal. This is where the SMART goal format comes into play as well. Setting a Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound goal makes it crystal clear as to what you need to do. Add to that your action plan of anticipated barriers and back up plan solutions and you have yourself a dandy little plan of attack.

Action: In this stage you have implemented your action plan, and you have changed your behavior. It's still new though, so it is totally normal to feel like you are riding the struggle bus back and forth between being in a new behavior and missing your old behavior. Focusing on your motivations to change and even writing them down or having a visual is helpful to keep you focused. For example: if your goal is to start walking for 30 minutes 5 days per week so you can build your stamina up to be able to hike with your family during your scheduled mountain trip, then a good visual may be a picture of the mountains or a hiking trail. Pro tip: selecting a positive visual will help foster an environment of self love and support. (i.e. avoid using something that lowers your self-esteem).

To move to the next stage: enlist as much positive support and encouragement as you can! Tell your friends and family about your change. Keep them updated on how they can support you. Most of all, understand that it's ok if you don't feel completely confident in your new habit yet. This stage can take time and that's totally normal. 

Maintenance: After 6 months or longer practicing your new behavior, you have reached the maintenance stage. It is likely that your new habit is a part of your lifestyle now and you are comfortable with it. The focus here is now on relapse prevention. Understand what potentially could throw you off course and have a plan for that. For many, holidays, vacations, and illness tend to be common causes for changing your new habit. You can't plan for an illness but you know at some point it is likely that you or someone you give care to will get sick. Start thinking about 1-2 possible solutions should this happen. Do the same for known vacations and holidays. What will be your plan to keep with your habit?

It should be said that most people don't progress through these stages in perfect numerical order. I have worked with many who come to me in preparation but then fall back to contemplation, or they get a new diagnosis and fall all the way back to pre-contemplation before progressing back up to contemplation and then preparation again. Each person is different and it can be different for each behavior.

3 ways to make change a bit easier

1. Be clear- identify your SMART goal and be as clear as you can on what it is and why you want to achieve it. If you don't know exactly what you want to achieve, it's hard to know if you achieve it. 

2. Have a plan- spend time on creating your action plan. If this has to be done each week because your schedule changes or your kids are in every activity ever offered, then sit down each week and make your plan. Failing to plan is planning to fail.

3. Enlist support- find friends or family with similar goals or those who will support you as you work on yours. Accountability is so important for most people. Find someone or something that will hold you accountable. This could be a facebook group, joining a challenge, or simply the desire to check something off your to-do list.

If you don't know where to start but know you want to start adding in more habits that will improve your health, join us for the 30 day Cinch Wellness Challenge! It's 30 days of 1-2 simple fitness or nutrition tasks to complete each day to help you get in the groove of doing something positive for your health. Join others as you encourage each other and hold each other accountable! The challenge starts July 6th! Sign up here!       



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