Transforming Intentions into Action

  • September 17, 2020
  • by Diane Duvall
Dr. Geni Abraham

As the end of the year draws near, it is the perfect time to evaluate our overall wellness and prepare to set new goals for the approaching new year. It is always exciting to start the new year with a list of intentions to be our best selves. But what if we stall after starting the list of behaviors we would like to change and the new habits we would like to embrace? Leaving familiar habits can be uncomfortable and challenging. How do we actually start the process to move in the direction of our ideal?  Think about what you would like in each area of your life. What areas would you like to work on? We are always moving forward in our lives and constantly improving. Consider different areas of your life: Career/Personal Development, Security/Financial, Physical/Health, Relationship/Social, Spiritual/Values.

Many people are thinking about making life changes but have not yet made the commitment to take action. Researchers have found that there are five stages to successful behavior change. This stages of change model has been successfully applied to many health behaviors. Different people are in different stages of their readiness to change. Based on this model individuals move through a series of stages in adopting healthy behaviors or stopping unhealthy ones. Listed below are the five stages of change and potential strategies to further movement through the stages in making positive change.

Precontemplation:  People in this stage are not ready for change. Many individuals in this stage are unaware or in denial of the need to change or may have been unsuccessful with change in the past.

Strategies to move forward:  Education and raising awareness will empower an individual to initiate a change. Look for ways to raise awareness through self-exploration. What does optimal health look like? Are your daily habits and behaviors the best choice for success in different areas of your life? Become more mindful or conscious of the current situation. Consider activities such as keeping a food journal to learn about how much you are eating, reading food labels, or discerning what triggers your desire to overeat or smoke.  Do you recognize discrepancies between your current situation and your hopes for the future? Learn about why you may not be feeling well either physically or emotionally. Explore medical websites or talk to your doctor or spiritual leader. Through this exploration you may discover some ideas for positive change.

Contemplation: People in this stage are considering making a change but have not made a decision to take action. They are aware of the benefits of changing but are also aware of the costs or barriers to change. The pros and cons can carry equal weight leaving the individual ambivalent toward change.

Strategies to move forward: Continuing education and becoming more mindful of the current situation can help to move through this stage. To tip the decision-making balance toward change acknowledge that behavior change has good consequences but can require discipline or sacrifice.  It is important to find ways to deal with the perceived cons of change.

One thing that helps people when considering change in any area of their life is to weigh the benefits and costs of change. During this process take time to identify any feelings or attitudes that you are holding onto, that if you were able to release, could help you let go of some of your barriers to change. This will help you to start to focus on the positive consequences of change. It can be helpful to remind yourself of changes you have made in the past that were successful. Think of someone else who’s been successful with the change you are contemplating and realize that you can change as well.  When considering dietary changes for example, examine why you want to change in this area. Positive consequences of this change could include: weight loss, increased confidence, reduced knee pain, increased energy, lowered cholesterol and reduced heart disease risk. To help offset any barriers to change start with small steps. If the belief that you would have to give up all your favorite foods is a barrier, release this and know that you can fit these foods into a balanced diet. Tell yourself that change is a journey and you can moderate the pace of change.  Become clear on your big picture. Know what your goals will look like and feel like when you attain them. By focusing on the way you want to feel, you can immediately take actions that lead to your desired outcome. Visualization is a powerful tool. Envision your life after changes are made. This is your intention. Prepare now to take daily actions that will help cultivate your intentions.

Preparation:  People in this stage may be practicing the desired behavior occasionally or may be preparing to start with small changes. They believe in the benefits of their desired behavior and ambivalence is no longer a barrier to change.

Strategies to move forward: Develop realistic goals and a timeline for change. It is very important not to skip this stage. Many people that attempt behavior change without adequately researching or accepting what it will take to make this change can relapse within a short timeframe.  Planning facilitates turning good intentions into actions. As an example, how could someone plan to get 8 hours of sleep per night to feel more focused, energetic and productive? With their current work schedule, it may be unrealistic to attain 8 hours every night. A realistic goal may be to get at least 8 hours of sleep four days per week. Their plan may include deciding what time they need to be in bed to allow for 8 hours of sleep before wake-up time. Working back from that bedtime, decide when evening chores need to be completed, dinner finished, etc. Manage time by possibly limiting screen time, TV time or phone time. If there is too much to do in the evening, can chores be divided up or postponed to free up time for adequate sleep? 

Don’t allow chores to get in the way of self-care. Schedule in personal health time. Work through your circumstances and how you will overcome barriers to change.

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Action: People in this stage are taking positive action for behavior change. They are implementing the plans they have made in the previous stages.

Strategies to move forward: The key to move forward from this stage is to maintain the behavior over an extended period of time, generally about 6 months. It is important to anticipate barriers and disruptions to be able to make adjustments along the way. For example, how can you keep up your exercise program when you are faced with lack of time, travel or the holidays? Perhaps during a busy time you could break up your 30 minute work out into 10 minute segments. It is important to build self-efficacy to deal with obstacles. This refers to an individual’s confidence in their ability to succeed in accomplishing their desired actions. Celebrating small successes with short term rewards can help sustain motivation and build self-confidence. It is also helpful to receive positive feedback from others that are supportive.

Maintenance: People in this stage work to maintain their new behaviors over the long term. This involves being able to successfully avoid temptations to return to the old habits.

Strategies for long term success: It is important to value the importance of the changes you have made. There are situations that may trigger a relapse and the temptation to give up. Develop strategies to cope with challenges that may occur. A relapse may result in a return to behaviors you’ve been working to change. Work to combat making justifications to go back to old behaviors. Combatting your justifications (excuses) will lead to long term success in maintaining behavior changes. For example, a hot, rainy summer can be a justification for not being able to walk or exercise. There are alternatives such as a stationary bike or treadmill, a walking/low impact exercise video, exercise classes or indoor walking (at a mall). There is a big difference between having one slip and having a relapse. Don’t let a lapse turn into a relapse. A lapse represents a temporary slip or return to a previous behavior a person is trying to change. If someone is trying to lose weight and improve their health, they may have a temporary lapse if they buy a bag of bagels. If that person gains 10 pounds while trying to improve their weight and health, they most likely have suffered a relapse.

Part of maintenance is getting back on track when necessary. When you go through a season where it is more difficult to stay focused on your goals, just set a new timeline to get back on track. Keep restarting. Plan for lapses and develop strategies to get back on track so you don’t give up.

It can be easier to stay on track by remembering your WHY for creating the change in the first place. Always keep your vision in the forefront to keep from defaulting to old, comfortable habits. Change can require ongoing discipline to overcome the temptation to quit, but keep moving forward, your desired outcome is totally worth it.  These stages of change can be fluid and you can go back through previous stages again when necessary. The bottom line is, never quit reaching for your ideal.

What change would you like to implement in your life? It is often easier to change habits or develop new behaviors when you have a support network. If you would like our assistance, we are here to help you. Reach out to our office to learn about our Lifestyle Medicine Practice or our Lifestyle Coaching Program.

-Diane Duvall, Life Coach and Certified Health Coach for the Lifestyle Medicine Practice of Dr. Geni Abraham, Board Certified, American Board of Internal Medicine. Our Internal Medicine Practice is an integrated medical practice with a focus on Lifestyle Medicine. We offer health coaching sessions to help you reach your personal goals.           

Dr. Geni Abraham, Medical Specialists of the Palm Beaches, Inc., 205 JFK Drive, Atlantis FL 33462.  
Phone: (561) 432-8935
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