Fitter, faster, bigger, better, slimmer, stronger; everyone’s fitness goals are different, but the reasons why we struggle to accomplish them are usually the same. Part of the problem is that we expect success to come easily, but become exceedingly disappointed when it doesn’t. (Hint: For the most part, nothing worth achieving ever comes easy.)
According to Dr.Denise McGuire, PhD, a licensed psychologist and emotional fitness coach with over 25 years of experience and a presenter at last year’s Fitness and Health Social Media Conference at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center in Aurora, Colorado, fewer than 20% of people in a problem population are ready to take action to change.
That means even though you might have the desire to lose weight, incorporate healthier habits into your day-to-day life, or even break a personal record in your 5k, your past attempts have failed simply because you weren’t ready to follow through with the complicated process that brings about true, maintainable change.
When it comes to accomplishing a goal, McGuire says we often fail to achieve real progress because we underestimate just how difficult it is to break old habits. She says that we tend to think the process will be simple and that successful transformation only requires willpower and self-discipline.
Psychological science has proven quite the contrary, though. According to the Prochaska’s Readiness for Change (or transtheoretical) model, whether or not you’ll successfully achieve a goal depends on where you fall within the model’s five stages.
The Stages of Change:
- Pre-contemplation: According to McGuire during this stage there is no risk of failure because you’re in denial of the problem and resisting change. People in pre-contemplation are typically defensive and feel hopeless.
- Contemplation: During this stage you “want to stop feeling stuck,” McGuire explains, and you’ll begin to develop an understanding of and awareness for the problem. Here you’ll develop the realization that your personal goals are in conflict with your current behaviors.
- Preparation: McGuire explained that during this stage you’re beginning your plans to take action within the next month. You’re aware of the problem and you want to take action but you’re still not 100% ready. However your confidence is increasing and change is becoming a priority for you.
- Action: During this stage you’ve begun to take the necessary steps that will lead you to success. Change has been initiated. According to McGuire this is the stage that requires the most energy and as a result, is also where you’re most likely to quit. To stay on track she suggests enlisting lots of social support, keeping a clear focus on your motivations, and engaging in positive self-talk.
- Maintenance: This stage is achieved once you’ve realized your goal and maintained you’re new habits for 6 months and beyond. McGuire says that the aim here is to prevent regression, although relapses are very common and maybe even inevitable. For successful upkeep you’ll need to have a strong commitment. If you do relapse, McGuire suggests using the slip-up as learning tool so that you can identify triggers in the future.
No matter which stage you currently identify with, McGuire offers the following advice for staying on track.
McGuire’s Secrets for Successful Change
- Be clear about your motivations: Write down your goals and re-read them every day. Constantly remind yourself about why you want to change and why success is important to you.
- Take on one issue at a time: For example: if you’re goal is to eat healthier, instead of trying to overhaul your diet entirely in one day, start out with a smaller goal like aiming to include a vegetable with your dinner every day for a week.
- Get support: Share your goals with your friends and family so they can help hold you accountable and offer guidance and encouragement when you’re feeling frustrated or unmotivated.
- Track your progress: Change takes time, and since we’d rather have instant gratification we’re easily discouraged when we don’t see results right away. Keeping track of your progress on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis will help you see the smaller changes that take place over time and help maintain your motivation to keep moving forward.
- Learn from your setbacks and relapses: Keep track of the things that tend to trigger setbacks so that you can identify them as “red flags” and learn to avoid them before they cause you to regress.