Every New Year many of us want to make healthy lifestyle changes. We have great intentions to change and may make those initial changes last. On the other hand, for most people who make resolutions, nothing seems to stick. Let’s take a fresh look at how to make lasting change in 2019.

First, we need to see where we’re at in the change process. According to one well supported theory, there are 5 stages of change people go through before sticking with a new healthy behaviour. Can you identify your current stage of change in the figure below? We’ve used a physical activity example, but the stages can be applied to many health behaviours, like changing diet or eating habits, reducing alcohol consumption, reducing smartphone usage, etc.

The point is to move from where you’re thinking about change (contemplation) to planning the specifics of making your change (preparation) to doing the change (action) and sticking to it (maintenance). For part 1 of this Implementing Change series of blogposts, let’s take a look at 3 helpful steps to making changes.

Step 1: Contemplation to Preparation

If you’re reading this, you’re likely interested in changing your lifestyle and are already in the contemplation stage (or further along). There are a few techniques, or health skills, that can help you prepare to change. First, think about why you want to change and the consequences of not changing. It may help to write these reasons down, as a list can motivate you in the future. Using our physical activity example, why is it personally important to you to become active? It may help to read up the benefits of physical activity, such as lower risk of heart disease and/or reducing symptoms of depression.

Step 2: Preparation to Action

Now that you’re ready to change, it helps to put a solid plan into place. How will you change? When will you start? What support do you need?

Here is where SMART goal setting can help. Setting small achievable goals can help boost your confidence, which is key to moving into the action stage, and staying there. Another useful tool is to think about your obstacles to changing. What might stand in your way? How can you overcome these obstacles? For ideas and examples related to physical activity, see this previous blogpost. Write these down as part of your goal setting plan.

Step 3: Ready, Set, Action!

The action stage is really the start of your new lifestyle, as you’re actively doing what you’ve set out to do. The trick is to keep going. We will focus on how to stay motivated and move from action to maintenance in Parts 2 and 3 of the Implementing Change blogposts series, coming soon. For now, keep reviewing your goals and celebrate small successes. One thing that has helped me is to mark down on the calendar every day that I achieve my goal.

For example:

My goal is to walk for 20-30 minutes, 5 days this week, and to do 10 minutes of resistance exercises 2 days this week. Each time I do my walk, I put a ✓ on the calendar. If I do my walk and resistance exercises, I put ✓✓ on that day. Seeing my progress helps me stay on track.

So how are we feeling Carrot readers? Are we ready to change? I hope this will help you move from good intentions to action this new year. If you have other tips, please share with our readers and comment below.

Leila Dale

Author Leila Dale

Leila Dale, PhD, is an expert in physical activity behaviour change and mobile health. She continues to conduct research through the School of Kinesiology at UBC and is a consultant for the World Health Organization. Aside from work, she is a mom of two and loves to run around with them outdoors.

More posts by Leila Dale

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