How Can I Get Myself To Live Healthier?

There is a growing awareness that lifestyle choices are leading to serious health problems. We have long known the risks associated to smoking and drinking in excess. More recently the news has been full of stories about the epidemic of obesity in America and the burden this is putting on the healthcare system, let alone the personal toll this problem takes on the individual.

Many of us have been given news by our doctors that we need to make some lifestyle changes to ensure continued good health. These changes can include:

· Losing weight
· Exercising more
· Stopping smoking
· Reducing stress in our lives
· Reducing drinking

All of these are great suggestions and could improve our health. The problem is that making these changes is hard. Because of this we might just ignore the warnings or we might try to change, for example, start a diet, sign up for the gym, throw away our cigarettes, and then end up abandoning our efforts after a short while.

Prochaska, Norcross and DiClemente, in their book, Changing For Good, cite research that only 20% of the people needing to make healthy life style changes are ready to make these changes. This is the problem. We often know what we need to do but we cannot get ourselves to do it!

Why might this be? Prochaska, Norcross and DiClemente's research suggests there are a number of stages we typically need to go through before we can successfully make a change. As cited in the above examples, after encountering an experience that makes us aware of our problem, eg our pants aren't fitting, we are out of breath after a short flight of stairs, we read another study showing that our habits are going to kill us, we then jump into action but without doing the important work that would make our action sustainable. Prochaska, Norcross and DiClemente say people who make successful lifestyle changes usually go through the following stages:
  • Precontemplation: We either don't see the problem or are ignoring it.
  • Contemplation: We see the problem but are conflicted about changing. For example, we know we need to change our diet but are not ready to give up the freedom to eat what we want.
  • Preparation: We are ready to do something and are making a plan for how we are going to do it.
  • Action: We are implementing our plan.
  • Maintenance: We are continuing our change efforts.
Efforts to make positive lifestyle changes are going to be more successful if we do each stage. Prochaska, Norcross and DiClemente suggest we are more likely to be successful if we start by identifying the stage we are currently in and then do the work necessary to move to the next stage. So when we have broken out of Precontemplation and realize there is a problem we need to change, we shouldn't move immediately to Action, but must first work through our ambivalence about changing in Contemplation. Then after convincing ourselves of the importance of change we need to make a plan for how we are going to change in Preparation, and only after that do we start taking Action. Finally, after we take action we need to prepare to continue our action over time in Maintenance.

How do we know what stage we are in? Below is quick way to identify which stage we may currently are in:
  • Precontemplation: Others are talking about changes we need to make but we never bring these issues up or we get defensive when others do.
  • Contemplation: We know we need to make a change but don't see ourselves doing it in the next six months.
  • Preparation: We see ourselves making the change in the next month.
  • Action: We are actually doing a plan we have made to make changes.
  • Maintenance: We have been doing our plan for awhile.
There are many things we can do in each of these stages to successfully move through them, and I will be covering those in future blogs. Prochaska, Norcross and DiClemente have shown that people often make a number of attempts to change before they suceed. So remember, just because you have not been able to make a lifestyle change does not mean it will never happen, you are just not ready...yet!

Until next time,