By: Katie Stumbo B.S. Biology with a focus in Kinesiology, NASM CPT, and NASM PES
Every 365 days it arrives again, the start to a brand new year. New Years resolutions, diets, new workout plans, new work goals, new financial goals and new expectations. These are worthy endeavors, yet so many times we fall short of our goals and don’t understand why. Why is it that January 17th is national ditching your resolutions day, followed shortly after that on January 23rd with National Pie day? 17 days is the average length in time it takes people to drop all good intentions and slip back into comfortable, familiar and often times unhealthy habits. Slipping back into old habits even though we know they are self-defeating, unhealthy and sometimes even dangerous for our being or health.
There are a couple of reasons this phenomenon happens. The first and most obvious is that change is hard. It goes against human nature to change; the habits that have been formed have been formed through years of conditioning and internal programing. New Year’s resolutions that are often unrealistic and unachievable are discouraging. That doesn’t mean change is impossible, it just means that it’s hard. Change is hard, accept that, set your intentions and start your path.
Once the decision is made to change realize that change is a process not an event. It is a process that will last a lifetime. Always determined to do better than yesterday. The process has been identified and described many times.
Stage 1 to change is pre-contemplation. This is the stage in the process where the individual is not even interested in changing. They are unaware there is a problem or are resigned to the idea that this is just the way it is. People in this stage usually avoid conversations, education and thinking about the behavior that needs to be changed. For our purpose this is usually weight loss or diet. So they avoid talking about, reading about or learning about nutrition and/or fitness programs. In this stage the consequences need to be sever and significant to push that individual into the next stage.
Stage 2, contemplation! This is when people starting thinking about making a changing in the next 6 months or so. Maybe they visit with a nutritionist or personal trainer but are not ready to commit to anything just yet. The problems can no longer be ignored yet the excuses and ambivalence persist. Fear of what it will cost to change your habits cripples many attempts at change. I hear statements like, “ If I stop drinking social functions will be boring” or “none of my friends workout so they might make fun of me when I do”. The truth is you need to change; maybe you can be the catalyst for your whole group of friends and peers to start leading a healthier lifestyle.
Stage 3 is preparation, my favorite part! Make a plan; create a support system and implement. Making the plan is a very important part of this stage. This is where you set your intentions and your goals. It’s a great time to get creative on how to handle situations that may lead you right back into bad habits. This is where an individual first believes that change is not only possible but is ready to do the work to make it happen! Within the plan you also set goals. This can be tricky for some. The goals need to be S.M.A.R.T. goals! S.M.A.R.T is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Without these guidelines for goal setting it can be easy to set far fetched goals and quickly lose heart when the goals are not be reached.
Stage 4 is action. Changes have been initiated! Behaviors have been eliminated or greatly modified. The benefits have become apparent and the individual is looking and feeling better.
Stage 5 is maintenance. In this stage people have accepted a new way of life, new behaviors and have sustained these healthy changes for more than 6 months. This stage is crucial. It is very easy to get complacent in this stage and start letting little bad habits back in and relapsing back into old behaviors. New challenges and new goals are very important in this stage to stay motivated and to prevent relapse.
The path through these stages is very individualized. Setting goals is important and necessary for forward progress. It is essential that these goals be realistic and attainable yet challenging. Working with a professional can ensure that you not only set S.M.A.R.T. goals but adhere to the timeline and achieve what you have been dreaming of for years!