You may have a health condition and are being encouraged to make changes to your lifestyle. This might be changes to things like eating, exercise, stress, sleep, or countless other things. Perhaps, you are wishing to avoid developing a health condition and want to make some changes to your lifestyle to eat healthier or be more active. Maybe you are suffering from mental health stressors and want to change how to cope with these struggles.

No matter who you are, you are not alone. Most of “us” are working on some type of change. You have probably realized this isn’t a smooth journey. We make plans that never get started. We make plans that start and stop, then re-start. Sometimes those plans don’t re-start and we have to go back to the beginning.  Throughout this process, you have probably realized that some changes are really, really hard. Some changes are easier than others, but most of the time, change is uncomfortable.

The path to change has many steps. There are 6 stages of change, and you can enter and exit at any point along the journey. Let’s use an example goal of increasing your daily walking to show how the stages of change work, and then, how we can set some goals for change when we are ready.

Stage What that means What’s helpful now
Precontemplation You are not interested in walking more. Think about the reasons you are not interested. Read about benefits of walking.
Contemplation You are thinking about walking more, but no plans to do this anytime soon. “I know, I should walk more, but…” Think about what’s good about not changing, but also what might be good if you did.

Also think about what is stopping you from walking more.

Preparation You are ready to walk more, and want to get started very soon. Think about what will help you with walking more (find a friend, find a route you like, get the right shoes). Come up with solutions to any problems you can predict (What if it rains? What if my friend can’t join me?)
Action You have been walking more, but it has been less than 6 months since you started. Remind yourself of the reasons why you are more active and what the benefits have been.

Continue to problem solve for any problems you can predict.

Maintenance It has been at least 6 months and you have been consistent with walking more. Be positive and praise yourself for it! Remind yourself why to continue.
Relapse Something happened and you are not walking at all as you were. It’s ok. Often the reason we stop, is because it has happened for the same reason before. For example, we didn’t keep up our walking in the winter. Learn from this. Do you want to change that? What are some solutions if this happened again? Re-start when YOU are ready.

All this is great information, but what do you do once you have decided to make a change?

Change is more likely to happen if you set goals and have a plan to reach them. Make your goals SMART. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Based.

Here’s an example, again using walking.

  1. Set a veryspecific goal. For example: I will increase my walking by including 10 minutes every day.
  2. Find a way to measure progress. For example, I will keep track of my walking each day on my calendar.
  3. Make sure it’s achievable. For example, don’t set a goal of 30 minutes if you’re not walking at all right now. If you can’t safely or reasonably accomplish your goal, set a smaller, achievable one.
  4. Make sure it’s realistic. It may seem wrong, but choosing the change you most need to make — let’s say, quitting smoking or eating vegetables — isn’t as successful as choosing the change you’re most confident you’ll be able to make.
  5. Set time commitments. Pick a date and time to start. For example, Wednesday I will start by walking for 10 minutes on my lunch break. Pick regular check-in dates: I’ll check my log every week and decide if I should make any changes in my routine. If I am not meeting my goals, I should set a different one.

 

A few final tips: Having some support can go a long way to help you stick with change. Ask a friend, family member, work friend or a trusted health care provider to support you. Be kind to yourself. No one is perfect. Care for yourself, and get started again.

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