In Functional and Holistic Medicine, we often ask patients to make changes in their lifestyle or nutrition, to help address the root causes of disease rather than simply treat symptoms. But what is change and how can we make it sustainable? The research of the last 50 years demonstrates that we are not destined to live out our past behaviors. Instead, we possess neuronal ability for plasticity – that is we can create new desired behaviors by creating new neuronal pathways throughout our life span.
So how do we start to make a change in our lives?
In 1979, psychologist James Prochaska first described the stages of change process for those quitting smoking. Since then, the Stages of Change model that Prochaska and his colleagues developed has been used to help people improve eating habits, increase physical activity, manage stress, address problematic alcohol, or drug use, and many other behaviors.
The Stages of Change Include Five Steps:
1. Precontemplation Stage: People in this stage are often unaware that a behavior needs changing or they may be aware but do not intend to change right now. Do not get stuck in this stage. Instead gather more information about the new behavior you want to create.
2. Contemplation Stage: People in this stage are aware that a behavior needs to change and are seriously thinking about changing it. Individuals in this stage are not ready to take action at this time. The best advice for this stage is to think about why the new behavior would benefit you and how you would feel as a result.
3. Preparation Stage: People in this stage are getting ready to change a specific behavior. Typically, they are creating a plan and are mentally “gearing themselves up” to take action. The best thing to do at this stage is to set SMART goals. These are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. The example of Specific would be: “I will be doing a power-walk three times/week. The Measurement aspect can be quite simple and basic like timing your walks or steps. Attainable means that you start with small achievable goals and graduate to intermediate and more advanced ones with time. For example, you can start walking 20 minutes/day, three days/week, and after a few weeks increase to 25 minutes/day four times/week and so on. The Realistic aspect of the change is the one that you are willing and able to accomplish. For example, if you start your work at 7am, it is highly unlikely that you will be willing to wake up at 5am to do your walk. You may want to do it when you get home from work at 3pm. The Timely aspect of the goal setting has to do with pacing yourself by committing to a date by which you have either accomplished your behavior change and/or were able to reach some kind of improvement in your laboratory or body wellness measurements.
4. Action Stage: People in this stage are actively working to change their behavior by sticking with their specific commitment. The best thing to do in this stage is to create some sort of accountability by enlisting the help of family members, friends, and mentors. Practice your new behavior, celebrate your victories, and remember that this is always a work in progress.
5. Maintenance Stage: People in this stage are solidifying their new healthy behavior and continue creating support structures so the behavior will become long-lasting. This is when you re-evaluate what works and what does not. This is also a suitable time to plan for lapses, which are common during times of stress or life change.
Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong within the Stages of Change. Each person will progress based on their readiness and the magnitude of the behavior they wish to change. Hope everyone of you will have a meaningful personal change journey.
The author of ‘Diet Slave No More!’, Svetlana Kogan, MD is a Board-Certified Internal Medicine, Holistic & Functional Medical Doctor with 25 years of experience. Her website is CustomLongevity.com Office Phone: 239-676-6883