If there’s one thing I’ve realized, it’s this: I can’t change your health.
A few years ago, caught up in my excitement for this newfound passion of mine, I naïvely thought I could change others’ health for the better.
I was chomping at the bit to spread the truth about real food, movement, and their interconnection between the mind and spirit.
To me, my sense of urgency to achieve the highest quality of health was crystal clear, more or less summed up in 1 Corinthians 6:19 – 20:
“Do you not know that your bodies are a temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.”
It seemed so clear to me. If we fail to take care of our bodies, we can’t use our gifts and talents nor affect the lives of others like we could or should.
My flawed thinking, though, failed to think of the psychology of change. We’re extremely complex beings, after all.
I, myself, have been on a winding journey full of psychological undercurrents connected to the way I once ate and the way I once thought about my body.
It took me a while to come to grips with changing my health habits and thoughts for the better. It certainly wasn’t achieved overnight, nor was it achieved because someone changed me.
My phases of change along the way all became clear to me when I learned about the Stages of Change, or Transtheoretical Model, in my recent class. You know what? It took me ALL of the stages in the model to get where I am today. The same applies to you, too.
It includes the following stages, as referenced in Nutrition Counseling and Education Skill Development (Bauer, Liou, & Sokolik, 2012):
The Transtheoretical Model (Stages of Change) Model
1. Precontemplation: A person has no intention of changing within the next 6 months and resists any efforts to modify the problem behavior. Reasons for this include:
- No awareness that a problem exists
- Denial of a problem
- Awareness of the problem but unwilling to change
- Feelings of hopelessness after attempting to change
2. Contemplation: Contemplators recognize a need to change, but alter between reasons to change and reasons not to change. Most in this stage intend to change in the next 6 months, though some can be stuck here for years. Obstacles include:
- Perceived unacceptable tastes
- Perceived economic constraints
- Perceived inconvenience
- Waiting for absolute certainty to change
- Wishing for different consequences without changing behavior
3. Preparation: Preparers believe the advantages of changing outweigh the disadvantages, and intend to change in the next 30 days. They may be willing to take small steps to prepare for the change (like trying a new recipe).
4. Action: In this stage, the person has altered the target behavior anywhere from 1 day to 6 months, and continues to work on it.
5. Maintenance: A person in this stage has been engaging in the new behavior for more than 6 months, and has the sense of “…becoming more of the kind of person one wants to be” (Bauer, Liou, & Sokolik, 2012). However, the person has to work actively to modify the environment to maintain their changed behavior and prevent a relapse.
What About Relapse…
Speaking of relapse, the MOST common time for it to occur is in the first 3 – 6 months of the action stage.
I know we can all relate to some behavior that we’ve tried to change in the past – be it cutting out Diet Coke, exercising consistently, staying on that “diet,” eating more vegetables, or even changing the way we think about our bodies – only to fall into that all-too-common RELAPSE.
And this is one of the MOST frustrating places to be in, bringing feelings of failure, negativity, and altogether defeat.
Wherever you are on the spectrum of change, though; no matter how many times you’ve relapsed, YOU can reach your own “tipping point” of maintenance with your desired health change.
Though I can’t change you, I can help and inspire you to change yourself.
Here are my suggestions based on my experiences and observations thus far:
8 Steps to Produce Lifelong Change
1. Find your REAL “why.”
So often, our desired change is extrinsic – whether it’s our own thinking (“I want to look good for my high school reunion”) or someone else’s thinking (“My wife thinks I should exercise more”). In order to have LASTING change, it has to be a deep down, burning reason greater than yourself.
Perhaps, it’s a change you want to make so that you can live a long, quality life with your spouse. Perhaps, it’s a change you want to make so that you don’t pass on certain habits to your children. Perhaps, it’s a change you want to make to see your grandkids graduate high school. Whatever it is, WRITE IT DOWN where you can see it every day.
2. Write down a VERY specific, measurable, realistic, SMALL goal that you can achieve in the next 2 – 4 weeks. Build confidence by achieving it, and then make another one.
If you don’t define your goal, how can you reach it? A common mistake is to have a very broad goal without time limits or the ability to track it. For instance, “I want to lose weight.” Well, exactly how much weight? By when? And what is realistic?
Another tip is to start SMALL. If you make a small goal that you know you can achieve, it builds confidence, and success breeds success. Then, move onto your next small goal. Example: “For the next 2 weeks, my goal is to walk three times each week for 45 minutes.” Once you’ve achieved that, you can make a new goal: “For the next 3 weeks, my goal is to continue the walking, but add in one strength training session for 20 minutes.”
3. Brainstorm and write down all your perceived barriers to change.
Take 10 minutes and jot down all your perceived barriers to change. Yes, I used the word, “perceived.” Our perception is our reality, after all. Is it cost? Is it time? Is it negative, self sabotaging thoughts? Is it someone or something hindering your motivation?
4. Remove all barriers to change.
This may not be easy, but find a way to remove all barriers to change by altering yourself or your environment. If you’re stumped, ask someone close to you for help! If you’re absolutely stuck on something, do your research. For instance, if you’re hung up on eating healthy because it costs too much, find corners you can cut to make it work, like these tips.
5. Recruit support & encouragement. Help them help you.
A) Want a MUCH greater chance at long lasting change? Find a loving spouse, friend, or family member, or join a community committed to your same goal. This kind of support is completely underestimated in achieving success.
My husband is my biggest fan and supporter. If he wasn’t on board and supportive of my goals, I don’t think I would be nearly as successful!
B) Find what area you need the most accountability in, and tell your support person how they can help you. Help them help you… like Jerry McGuire says! For example, they can help by:
- Checking in weekly to see how you’re doing.
- Assisting you in keeping junk food out of the cupboards in the house.
- Going on walks with you two days a week.
6. Take action. Start.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, right?” Confidence is gained through taking action. Start small if you have to; in fact, smaller is better in the long run, because we’re aiming for LIFELONG change, right?
7. Find small, non-food ways to celebrate.
As you achieve your small goals, choose healthy, non-food ways to celebrate, such as:
- A massage
- A manicure
- Coffee date with a friend
- Buying a new shirt
- Buying a new book or CD
8. View a “lapse” as an OPPORTUNITY; not an obstacle. Analyze.
“So as a man thinks, he becomes.” (Proverbs 23:7) I like to say that the body follows the mind; the mind is THAT powerful. Often, a simple shift in thinking can have profound effects on the way you view your successes or failures.
If/when you have a lapse (a moment where you slip into your old behavior), don’t let it become a RElapse (a downward cycle of more lapses).
Rather than beating yourself up and going for more brownies, for instance, stop yourself and analyze the situation.
- What triggered the lapse?
- How do you feel after the lapse?
- Do you really think another lapse is going to make you feel better?
- How can you CHANGE the environment or your behavior so that the lapse doesn’t happen again?
Use it as an opportunity for learning. Failure, after all, isn’t failure unless you don’t learn something from it.
So. There you have it; my advice for producing LIFELONG change, baby step by baby step. It’s a lifelong journey, but the reward is exponential.
Now, tell me: How did you move through these stages of change to produce a desired outcome? Or, what stage are you currently in, and what are you doing to forge onward?
Bauer, K., Liou, D., Sokolik, C. (2012). Nutrition Counseling and Education Skill Development 2nd Edition. Wadsworth Cengage Learning: Belmont, CA.
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