Helping you get through tough times

Trying to break or take up a habit

Trying to break a bad habit or develop some good healthy habits is something we all want to do at some stage.

Soccer stress ball being squeezedFrom giving up sugar, smoking, or biting our nails, to trying develop good habits about exercise, studying, managing stress we may have the best of intention but still feel it’s too much of a challenge.

Stages of change

There is a psychological theory called the “stages of change” which may help us to not give up.

People go through five stages when trying to break a bad habit eg smoking; or develop a new good habit such as exercising. These are: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance.

1. Pre-contemplation

At this stage, you haven’t even begun to think about changing. You may not have recognised a problem or have tried to change so many times that you’ve given up. People at this stage are not yet ready or willing to change.

2. Contemplation

During this stage, you are thinking about changing, but feel unsure about it. You start to seek out information and consider the advantages and disadvantages of changing.

It may take a long time to get through this stage and not everyone does.

3. Preparation

If you consider the benefits of changing outweigh the losses, you may move on to the preparation stage. Now you make a commitment to change and start taking small steps as you become more motivated.

If you’re at this stage you should make a plan, set goals and decide how to you are going to achieve them. The important thing here is to be realistic with your goals.

4. Action

Here, you make the change. For us it will be going for that first run; it doesn’t matter how far or how long, just that we do it. Hopefully this is a good motivator and we’ll run longer the next time.

However, without properly thinking the action through and making a plan to keep going, the action stage could be short-lived, bringing you back to the pre-contemplation stage.

5. Maintenance

This stage involves integrating the new behaviour (in our case exercising) into your life until it becomes a habit. To keep motivated it’s good to keep reminding yourself of the progress you have made.

Relapse (extra stage)

Relapse is a part of these states of change. It’s important not to see relapse as failure.

If you become discouraged and quit, the cycle can start again and you go back to either the pre-contemplation or contemplation stage. You can go through the cycle as many times as you need.

Most people go through these stages many times before they form a new habit.

Making the change

The “stages of change” are an indicator of our willingness and readiness to change our behaviour. We’ll probably quit many times and have to start over, but we can still achieve our goals if we keep at it.

Drawing up a realistic action plan and take small steps will help keep you committed.

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