Health changes are not easy

Learning about the stages of change can help you achieve your health goals .

A hand holding a piece of paper that reads,
Photo: Unsplash/Tim Mossholder.

We all have habits in our lives that could use some sprucing up or renovation. Creating resolutions to change should apply all year long. According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, 46% of people who make New Year’s resolutions are successful. One of the first steps when you are considering making a health change or resolution is to look at the areas of your life that you consider problematic. “Take stock” of your current situation. Do you want to lose weight? Are you using a budget and living within your means? Are you thinking of starting an exercise program or making general health improvements?

Change is never easy and can seem to threaten the way we think about ourselves and how we feel. Changes in behavior do not take place in one step. Personal change takes place in stages over a period of time, and learning about the “stages of change” can help you succeed in making important changes in your health. Change rarely follows a linear progression through the stages. More often, people regress or go backward before they change for good.

In the book “Changing for Good” by Prochaska, Norcorss and DiClemente, the authors describe six major stages of change.

  1. Pre-contemplation. In this stage, you may not even be aware that a problem exists or that a change should be made in your life. People in this stage do not want to make any change to their habits and do not recognize they have a problem. If you are in this stage, you are not optimistic about your ability to make change. This stage is often referred to as “denial.”
  1. Contemplation. In the contemplation stage, you have gained some knowledge about a different or new behavior. You are more aware of the need for change and are open to exploring how to make a change. In this stage, you begin to weigh the costs and benefits of a major change in your life; you are contemplating whether it is worth it. Some people are in this stage for long periods of time. (“I have learned about the problems connected to being overweight firsthand and think that I might need to do something about my weight.”) 
  1. Preparation. When you are preparing for a change, you are now ready to commit to make the change and have worked to gain the skills you need to sustain a change. People in the preparation stage have a start date for the change and are ready to take action.
  1. Action. If you are in this stage, you are ready to “take the plunge” and change your behavior. The action stage is the actual process of changing your lifestyle. You are at risk of regressing backwards in this stage, so it is important to have support and tools in place to keep you motivated. Smokers in this stage have discussed the pros and cons with a knowledgeable person and made plans for their path to a smoke-free life (e.g., set a quit date, have supplies in place, enlisted medical assistance and have a support network).
  1. Maintenance. This stage is when you have made the change and are working to sustain the change and enjoy the rewards that comes with the change. In this stage, you are living your change and it has become a new way of life. Maintenance is on-going and can be a long process. Programs that promise a “quick fix” can set you up for failure. Sustained change requires dedication to the effort.
  1. Termination. The final stage of change is our ultimate goal, such as weight maintenance, living smoke-free and fostering healthy relationship or family dynamics. In this stage, your persistence pays off and you have made a change for good.

Michigan State University Extension recognizes that change is not easy; real change requires education, patience, persistence, and support. People often bounce back and forth between contemplation, preparation, and action stages. Consider people who have tried multiple diets over the course of many years. You can start by making small shifts toward new behaviors. Be intentional about forming new habits; and set your own pace as you work through the stages of change in your life.

If your goals are to eat healthier, exercise more, learn to budget, manage stress, anger or a chronic health condition, visit the MSU Extension website for a list of classes, workshops and other resources that may assist you in achieving your resolution and make a positive change.

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