In two days, a new year begins. Two of the most popular resolutions of the New Year are associated with starting a weight loss program or starting a physical fitness program. The key word is “starting.” The New Year is a great motivator for change, but too often our New Year’s resolutions don’t last and our good intentions fall apart. Why? Think about it. “Making” a New Year’s resolution means making a change and change doesn’t happen all at once. It’s a process. That’s why I’d like to propose a change to the phrase “Making a New Year’s resolution.” I prefer to call it “Starting a New Year’s resolution,” or, starting a change.
Researchers and social scientists love theoretical models. A well-known model of behavior change that I find particularly helpful in my work is called the “Stages of Change” model by psychologist James Prochaska. You may have heard of it. I will outline it briefly and add my own twist to it. The five stages of change are:
1. Pre-contemplation ( you’re not even thinking about it)
2. Contemplation ( you’re giving it a thought now and then, but not doing it)
3. Preparation (you’re doing it irregularly)
4. Action (you’re working on the new habit regularly but for less than six months)
5. Maintenance (you’ve been maintaining the new habit for six months or more)
Think of the five stages along a line with arrows between each stage. Change happens in stages and sometimes you slip up. In fact, slip ups will happen. It’s a normal part of the change process. One of the arrows may loop back from action to preparation and you’ll find yourself slipping back to a former stage . . . one step forward, two steps back. You may not go to the gym for a week or two. Think of it as a lapse. A longer lapse may become a relapse, perhaps a drop in motivation, an illness, life just “happening,” or an extended snow storm! Don’t think of a lapse or relapse as a failure to keep your New Year’s resolution. It’s all part of the change process and change is difficult. Try not to let a lapse or relapse turn into a total “collapse” by giving up. You can always start over, but you don’t have to go all the way back to square one. Consider the pre-lapse practice!
The New Year is a powerful motivator for starting a resolution or a change, a new page, a clean slate. Think about where you are now and where you want to go. Start with the first step and make each additional step that follows a small and manageable one. It takes time to form a new habit. When you start to see results and to feel good, when you begin to look forward to your new activity, whether it is a new way of eating, an exercise program or if you are starting to stop smoking, you’ll know you’re on your way to a new lifelong habit–a positive change. This time next year, you won’t be starting a resolution, you’ll be continuing it and maybe starting a new one. Happy New Year!
Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM