The Stages of Change

Photo by Billy Huynh on Unsplash

 With the start of the New Year, comes the collection of emotions surrounding New Year’s Resolutions.  I used to make New Year’s Resolutions; then I stopped because I wasn’t accomplishing anything except making myself feel guilty for not following through with them.  “New Year’s Resolutions are dumb!” was my adopted mantra for a period of time but then I began to reconsider.  Shortly after the birth of my first child and at the prompting of a motivational book I had read (I can’t recall the title), I wrote out a series of goals.  These were divided up into high level goals (maybe 10 years into the future), mid-level goals, and low-level goals (stuff I could work on almost immediately) with the idea that succeeding at low level goals builds a foundation and momentum for eventually achieving the high level goals.  I still have this hand written list in a notebook and I know use the holiday season to evaluate my progress toward these goals.

One of the biggest high level goals I have written down concerns changing several aspects of my career.  Since these changes don’t necessarily have clear-cut roadmaps to follow, the process has been fairly anxiety provoking.  So I did some reading and I came across the Stages of Change or Transtheoretical Model (TTM).  These Stages of Change grew out of studies conducted by Prochaska and DiClemente in the late 1970’s, early 1980’s of individuals who had stopped smoking without the help of other people or aides 1, 2.  Reading about the Stages of Change really resonated with me and helped me recognize that change is a process; and that just because I find myself thinking about change but not yet implementing change, in no way means I am failing – see the Stages of Change as outlined below:

The Stages of Change (Transtheoretical Model) 

  1. Pre-contemplation – you are not even conscious of making a change; in fact, any change would be a negative.
  2. Contemplation – you acknowledge a change is necessary and want to do so (in the next 6 months) but are not sure how to go about it all.
  3. Preparation – you are ready to change (in the upcoming month) and fully believe the behavior change will lead to a healthier life.
  4. Action – you have made the change and are committed to sustaining it!!!
  5. Maintenance – you have stuck with the change for 6+ months, are moving forward and focused on preventing a relapse back into the unhealthy behavior.
  6. Termination – there is zero desire to lapse back into the unhealthy behavior; there is no fear of re-lapse. Most people do not reach termination, rather they hang out in the maintenance stage.
Preparation Stage: Preparing to join Crossfit and change my nutrition.
Action Stage:  7 months into Crossfit and actively changing my nutrition.

Of course, this is a model of behavior change and criticism has been raised regarding the Stages of Change (e.g. the duration of time ascribed to each stage) but it is helpful to have a context in which, with some self-awareness, you can implement a change in your life.  For example, maybe you’ve realized that you are carrying around some extra body fat, you are sore and tired all the time, and you have no time at all for cooking.  While realizing all this, you may also be hearing yourself say, “Well, I’ve got three kids to chauffeur from practice to practice while working this full-time job!”  If this sounds familiar then tell yourself, “YES!”, because you are actually on the road to change; you are in Contemplation about making a behavior change to benefit your health!  Please, don’t tell yourself, “Tomorrow is it!  I’m going to the gym at 5am and making all our family meals for the week!”  You’ve launched into Action without considering Preparation! Instead, maybe do get up at 5am the following day but use the time to write out a plan or schedule which allows you to make the gym maybe twice a week and reserve Sunday afternoon as a meal prep time for the coming week.  Then, look at your calendar and work toward a feasible time frame to initiate the Action stage – don’t set yourself up to fail, prepare for success!

In retrospect, this is exactly how I got into CrossFit.  After my second child was born, I found myself on the couch in a sleepless haze oscillating between breast feeding, trying to eat and getting some sleep.  I had the television on and the CrossFit Games were on.  Keep in mind, 2nd kid two weeks old, first kid 2 years old and myself; 25 extra pounds with nary a motivation for exercise BUT I knew at some point, I’d have to get back on the horse and watching the Games I thought “I want to be able to do that someday!”  YES-contemplation phase!  I actually bounced back and forth between contemplation and preparation for the next year, as I looked around at area CrossFit boxes looking for a good fit until finally I went for it; signed up and took action (see above pictures).  Now, here I am a full year later riding the maintenance phase of change.  By the way, once you find a CrossFit gym that is the best fit for you – you will discover a warm, kind and supportive community who are as dedicated to change as you are and it is a contagious environment to be in!

For more info on the Stages of Change/TTM visit:

http://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/MPH-Modules/SB/BehavioralChangeTheories/BehavioralChangeTheories6.html

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