New Year's Resolutions....
It’s that time of year again when we’re all thinking about making lifestyle changes for the better; whether it be getting more active, eating more healthily or quitting the booze etc. So how have you fared in the last year? What were your resolutions last January and how did that work out for you over the months that followed? We’d love to know!
Last new year we planned to get out more on hikes and walks in this country, take a trip to Norway, stay in a treehouse and visit the Hay Festival amongst other things – job done. But then none of this was a hardship! I also planned to eat more fruit and veg, eat less chocolate and get up earlier – less consistent success here I’m afraid!
When it comes to lifestyle changes, there needs to be a long-term change in behaviour. Whether it be adopting something new (eg. exercise), or giving something up (eg. smoking), one-off events don’t cut the mustard. I studied the psychology of behaviour change as part of my Masters degree and was fascinated to learn how much research there is around this subject. The concept of ‘adherence’ particularly interests me and it’s pretty incredible that a number of consumer surveys have put the drop-out rate at gyms at more than 80% in the first eight weeks of signing up. A woeful statistic yet one that keeps gyms in business with their January sign-up deals.
The main thing to consider for yourself when embarking on a change in behaviour is where you are starting from – both physically and mentally. Is your enthusiasm simply based on feeling shabby today or have you prepared yourself fully for the difficult path ahead?
The Stages of Change Model explains our readiness to change our behaviour. It describes the process of behaviour change as occurring in stages.
These stages include:
Pre-contemplation: There is no intention of taking action.
Contemplation: There are intentions to take action and a plan to do so in the near future.
Preparation: There is intention to take action and some steps have been taken.
Action: Behaviour has been changed for a short period of time.
Maintenance: Behaviour has been changed and continues to be maintained for the long-term. Usually beyond 6 months.
It’s pretty easy to take a look at your resolutions and put your proposed behaviour change somewhere in this cycle. Once you’ve done that, you can take steps to move yourself on to the next stage….
So if your plan is to take up yoga and you’ve bought new kit and a mat, and found a local class to try next week – you’re in the preparation phase! Or if you’re thinking about getting outdoors and walking more often and have thought about where you might go, and how it might fit into your weekends and childcare plans – you’re a contemplator!
Everyone will vary in their readiness to change so it’s really important that a plan is tailored to you. At each stage, different intervention strategies will help you progress to the next stage and through the model. Also bear in mind that movement through this model is cyclical – you may progress to the next stage and then tumble back to a previous stage (often referred to as ‘relapse’). Relapse doesn’t necessarily spell failure - remember that people rarely change behaviours quickly and decisively - so don't beat yourself up for it!
To progress through the stages, you can apply certain strategies to help you make and maintain change:
- Increase your awareness about the healthy behaviour eg. reading or talking to friends about it.
- Think about how you feel emotionally about the health behaviour. This can be positive or negative eg. How much more relaxed do you feel when you’ve spent time in nature? How rough do you feel with a hangover?!
- Evaluate to what extent the healthy behaviour is part of who you want to be eg. are you worried about your over-reliance on caffeine or sugar, and would you feel much better about yourself if you cut down?
- Evaluate to what extent your unhealthy behaviour affects others eg. passive smoking.
- Consider what opportunities exist to show your environment is supportive of the healthy behaviour eg. spending time with friends where not drinking alcohol is the norm.
- Consider how committed you are to change a behaviour based on the belief that achievement of the healthy behaviour is possible. Do you ACTUALLY believe you can do this?
- Find supportive relationships that encourage the desired change eg. walking buddy.
- Substitute healthy behaviours and thoughts for unhealthy behaviours and thoughts.
- Reward the positive behaviour and reduce the rewards that come from negative behaviour.
- Change your environment to have reminders and cues that support and encourage the healthy behaviour and remove those that encourage the unhealthy behaviour eg. trainers at the front door; positive affirmations on your desktop.
Hopefully we’ve planted the seed that making coherent and logical plans in your decision-making process makes adopting and maintaining a change in behaviour much more likely. Crossing your fingers and hoping for the best is not the key to success! Good luck and happy new year!
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