I’m always interested by psychological type things – especially when I can apply them to myself, because let’s face it. I’ve started a blog about me. Safe to say I’m a wee bit self-absorbed.
Anyway, that meant that when Matt told me about something called the transtheoretical model of behaviour change, I was pretty intrigued. Bearing in mind I’m close to the end of my journey (relatively – I’ve still got a good 20lbs to go ’til I meet my target weight), I remembered each of the phases this thing describes so clearly, it struck me that had I known they were normal at the time, I’d probably have been a tad more patient with myself.
So, if you’re looking to start, you’re probably already beyond phase 1 – but I’m willing to bet you’ll recognise it. This is…
Precontemplation – AKA ‘I’m fine! This isn’t an issue!’
This phase is where you’ve got no plans to change in the forseeable future (say, the next six months). This can be for a number of reasons – either through a lack of information on why or how you should, or because you’ve tried and failed previously and as a result, you’re demoralised. You might avoid reading about the potential risks associated with being overweight/a smoker/whatever it is, and you’ll probably switch off when people around you talk about it (or change the subject pretty rapidly).
I definitely remember that stage – I was there a LOT. For a long time, I didn’t recognise how vastly my knee issues were affected by my weight, even though it was pretty obvious. When my surgeon mentioned my weight during one consultation, I heard him, but I didn’t really ‘hear’ it, if you know what I mean – listening to the words coming out of someone’s mouth, and taking them in, are two very different things.
I had a similar attitude towards food guilt at that point – every time I ordered a takeaway (ie. every night) there was a tiny part of me that knew it was the wrong thing to do, but I’d block it out. I’d think ‘pfft, one more won’t hurt’ every time I picked up a slice of pizza, and – crucially – I never, ever looked at nutrition labels. On anything. Read into that what you will.
Contemplation – AKA ‘Maybe I could… But…’
This is where you start to think about changing, which is a big deal in itself – and since you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably already made it at least this far. Have a gold star on me – that’s a good start! However, if you’re in this phase, you’re still probably listening to a fair amount to the negative voices in your head that say you can’t do it, or it won’t be fun, or any number of ‘cons’ that balance, if not outweigh, the pros.
The key thing here is to take the time to engage in a bit of self-assessment. Being honest with yourself at this point is crucial. I found that at this point, I started to read diet blogs, and watch fitness shows, and would ask myself what was so different between myself and them. I was in this phase for a good four or five months – but every day, I got a little bit closer to…
Preparation – AKA ‘OK. I’m ready.’
Woohoo! If you’re here, it’s about to get really cool. You are about to pass Go and lose two hundred pounds – or something along those lines. You’ve started to tell people you’re ready to change, and have started to identify the steps you can take to do so.
The big worry you’ve got, though, is ‘if I try…will I fail?’ and that insidious little thought can really hold you back. I had a good month in this period where I kept thinking that tomorrow would be the day – but each time, I felt like I was missing something, so I’d research it a little more, watch another TV show, Google another thing… Until one day, I just let that thought go.
Because, as cheesy and as trite as it sounds – if you try, yes, you might fail. But if you don’t try, you’ll definitely fail – so you might as well go with the better odds!
Action – AKA ‘Progress!’
This is the first, say, six months of your journey. You’ve made significant changes, and you’re seeing results – but you still have to work hard to stay focused, committed, and ninja-tastic around temptation. At this point, you’re trying out ways to keep your eyes on the prize – testing out new activities, and things which replace your old habits.
In my case, this was yoga, green tea, walking to work… All small things that I’d lean on when the urge to eat chocolate until I was comatose cropped up. Eventually, these things become your preferred option – but at this point, it’s all about trying new things until you work out what floats your boat.
And you’ll notice I said six months. This is why diets fail. If you’re doing something that isn’t sustainable for more than six months – or six days, it’d seem in a lot of cases – you won’t make it to the last phase, which is…
Maintenance – AKA ‘I have got this DOWN.’
Well, almost. You’ve made your lifestyle change, and most of the time, you’re able to stick to it without really thinking about it. This is kind of where I am now – but you’re never completely away from your bad habits. Even at this point, you have to be aware of situations where you’re likely to slip back into old ways and do your best to stay strong against them.
For instance, I know that once a month, when I’m hormonal, I want to be alone, and I want to eat cake. Bearing in mind I was never one to shy away from hanging out, on my own, comfort eating my way through a particularly tearful episode of Grey’s Anatomy, this is a danger zone for me. For me, what works instead is to take myself out for coffee and cake, and enjoy it – because it’s a much more controlled way of satisfying the craving than buying an entire Swiss roll and working my way through it whilst sitting in my PJs, mourning a fictional TV character.
I’m not normally one for motivational quotes. But because I’m doing a Literature PhD, I’m going to throw out some Samuel Beckett at this point (if you’re interested, here is Liam Neeson reading it aloud - SWOON):
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
I still fail, now, even though I’ve reached the maintenance part of this model – but the ways I fail are better. I know where I am, and I know who I am – so I understand my weaknesses and can stay on top of them. Most of the time.
Identifying that you’re ready to make a change to your entire life isn’t just a matter of waking up one morning and doing it. It’s very much a gradual process, and one that’s easier if you go into it with your eyes open – so it’s worth working out where you are in your journey, even before it’s properly begun.
Because the main thing about this whole lifestyle change business is that it’s a process of knowing and understanding yourself – and learning to be happy. Which is completely possible – and once you’ve identified you’re ready to change, you’re half way there.