The Transtheoretical Model of Change.
Just hearing those words make me revert back to theories class in graduate school and I get a little sick to my stomach (I did fine in the class though, in case you were wondering).
The Transtheoretical Model of Change (also known as the Stages of Change model) was developed by Prochaska in the 1970s. I found a great website that explains what it’s all about:
“…the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) focuses on the decision-making of the individual and is a model of intentional change. The TTM operates on the assumption that people do not change behaviors quickly and decisively. Rather, change in behavior, especially habitual behavior, occurs continuously through a cyclical process…”
So, this explains why when you try to change something, nothing is really linear…you may be taking two steps forward and one step back.
Read below for the five stages of change and tips and tricks to make it through each!
Precontemplation is the first stage of change. People who are in this stage don’t want to change, but they may (or may not!) have recognized that they do NEED to change. However, people in this stage may also feel that change just isn’t possible. People can feel pessimistic about their abilities, knowledge, etc. and use these as reasons to not commit to change.
This is the HARDEST stage to be in, and sometimes, it takes some kind of trigger – a medical scare, the death of a loved one, loss of a job, etc – to make people realize that a change needs to be made.
At this point in the stages of change model, I recommend keeping an open mind. If someone is giving you information about health, fitness, or nutrition – be polite, say thank you and file away for future use.
Contemplation is the next phase. Think of this as a pro-con phase. What are the pros (i.e., benefits) of lifestyle change, and what are the cons (i.e., costs) of lifestyle change? Basically, you’re contemplating whether or not changing your lifestyle is really worth it. Spoiler alert – it is!
In my work as a clinical social worker, I see people stuck in this particular phase all of the time. This is one of the most difficult phases, since you’re trying to decide if this is all worth it. Will I sink time and effort, and maybe even finances, into something I don’t know I’ll like or see benefits from? Will I fail? Will these changes work? Do I have support? These are common questions that I get from my clients. My role is to then help them shift their negative thoughts to more positive ones. By nature, people are more apt to do something if it’s pleasurable, so making change a pleasurable activity will definitely help!
At this stage, it’s helpful to create a pro-con list, or do a cost-benefit analysis. Do some research about the benefits of making a change to a positive lifestyle. As those old NBC commercials stated….”The More You Know!”
Also known as the “pre-action” phase, people in the preparation phase have decided to toss out their old habits and bring new ones in – within a month, possibly sooner. Maybe you’ve scheduled an appointment with a personal trainer, have set a deadline to stop buying junk food and clean out your cabinets, joined a gym, or purchased an at-home exercise program. Maybe you’ve even scheduled an appointment with your doctor or a nutritionist to get some guidance. Whatever it is – congratulations! You’re on your way!
It’s key at this point to also remember to make small changes. Small lifestyle changes are much more sustainable than major ones, particularly if you’re trying to do several at once. If you’re thinking about cutting out soda, for example, maybe try decreasing the amount you drink daily/weekly and replace the soda with water. If you’re going to stop smoking, start decreasing the amount you smoke daily. Cold turkey is often not sustainable – you’ve really got to work yourself up to it. Those who make small lifestyle changes are often more successful than those who make lots of big changes all at once.
Get a calendar and write down your start date in big, bold letters (and get excited!). In this stage, I have even given some of my clients the assignment of creating a “vision board” – things they want to see themselves accomplish. We go through magazines and find pictures that represent their goals, and collage them. Finally, I tell them to hang it in a place they’ll see daily, like the fridge. Remember – any motivation helps!
The action stage is…well, where you’re doing the “action”. This is where you’re actually changing your lifestyle. Maybe you’re exercising more consistently, or maybe you’re eating better. Maybe you’re wearing a nicotine patch to help you quit smoking. Whatever it is you’ve decided to do – KEEP DOING IT!
This is the hardest phase for most people. A lot of people end up relapsing (aka going back to their old habits), so it’s important to do whatever you can to stay motivated. Here are a few tips:
- Get all the support you can. Family, friends, co-workers – whoever you need.
- Reward yourself. Did you have a great week staying on track? Treat yourself to a manicure or a trip to the movies. Don’t use food to reward yourself! It’s a slippery slope.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you fall off track. It happens to all of us. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again. However, reflect on what happened to make you fall off track. Stressful day at work? Family conflict? Come up with some contingency plans to help you stay on track. For example, I only keep healthy snacks at work – yogurt, protein bars, cheese sticks, etc.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your habits won’t change in a day either!
Maintenance is the last stage of change. This is where your positive habits stick. You’re exercising and eating well consistently, haven’t smoked in years, etc. Congratulations! You did it!
As a social worker, people come to me all the time wanting to change, and they tend to cycle through the contemplation, preparation, and action stages. My advice to them is this:
- Make small changes over time, not a lot of big changes at once (I mentioned this before…see a theme? Yes, it’s that important!).
- Don’t give up, because it will be difficult. You will fall off the wagon, and then the wagon may back up and run you over a few times. Fall down seven times, stand up eight.
- You’re not going to see change immediately, especially if you’re working on losing weight. Your body is smart – it’s going to hold on to whatever it can. Even after my gastric bypass surgery, my weight doesn’t fall off (believe it or not!). I can go a couple of weeks without my weight budging, and then suddenly I’m 5 lbs lighter. Give your body time to adjust!
- Above all, remember why you’re doing this.
Share with me: any tips that have worked for you throughout these stages of change?