How To Make The Stages Of Change Work For You

By Jessica Poole, Certified Athletic Trainer

It’s the last day in February, and on a leap year to boot: how are those resolutions going? 

Ok, you can stop throwing tomatoes at me now. 

Have you fallen off the wagon already? Are you regretting you made that resolution? Have you already made another one that was easier? 

IT”S OK!! 

Yes, I said it, it’s ok. 

I’m still trying to start my resolutions from 2014! 

How about just get going on the resolution again? 

What, you need some motivation and encouragement? Sure, here goes. . . . 

Let’s talk about motivation. You have decided to begin a new healthy habit and it is now either the time you need to dig deep and keep up the change, or you need to pick back up where you left off two (or three, or four) weeks ago. 

To understand how to keep going, we need first to understand some psychology behind making changes and this will give us a great place to stop, ponder and reflect on how we can keep going with our new habits. 

We can classify our decision of change on a spectrum from pre-contemplating change, contemplating change, preparing to change, to taking action or maintaining change. 

When we are pre-contemplating change, we are aware a change needs to take place, however we haven’t really bought into even thinking about it seriously. 

For example, I need to go to bed at 10, but I still value my TV time until 11:30, so I should, but won’t, do anything about it.

When we are contemplating change, we are seriously considering change. We are raising more awareness to ourselves for the change. For instance, if I need to go to bed at 10. In the contemplation stage, maybe I heard a research report on the news speaking to the value of adequate sleep, so I am strongly considering beginning a habit of 10 p.m. bedtime. Now there is an emotional desire to go to bed at 10 p.m. I begin thinking of how to complete the action.

When we are preparing for change we are taking an active role in preparing for change. We are evaluating our knowledge, values, perceptions, attitudes and preparing our minds for change. We are adapting lifestyles, other habits, and time in order to prepare to make a change.

When we take action, we make the change happen. I go to bed at 10 p.m. Usually this stage rewards us with a feeling of self liberation. We feel good, free, accomplished, successful. We may reward ourselves or the action may reward us. When we go to bed at 10 we are rewarded with a sense of freshness, rejuvenation or energy.

Finally, maintenance. This is the hardest part. Life usually finds its way in to keep us from maintaining our habits. 

The key? We have to seek rewards that keep us coming back for more success. We have to begin to look ahead and control our environments. We have to develop helping relationships with others to continue on.  We have to maintain control and discipline.

Most people will continue with a habit if they feel as if they have some control over it. 

So what are some ways we can maintain our healthy changes?

Place a high value on change and make it non negotiable priority. You want to spend more time with your children, then set aside a time that is theirs and theirs only. No one or nothing interrupts that time. End of story. With my bedtime change, for instance, I have to make it non negotiable: 10 p.m. is bedtime. No matter what. 

Control your environment. TV is turned off at 10 p.m. Set a sleep timer, have self control, rely on your spouse, whatever works.  If your cell phone interrupts your time with family, put it on “do not disturb.” That way only the pre-set people on your emergency list will be allowed to ring through. Or leave your phone in a designated place away from your bedroom, your kids’ rooms, family or dining room. Find a way to control the things that suck your time from your change. 

Self talk. Remind yourself of your goals and values. Remind yourself about why you wanted to change in the first place. If  you are trying to lose weight and cut out the junk food, then you have to talk yourself out of chips when you walk by them to get to the almonds in the grocery store. You have to encourage yourself to go outside and run in the cold. You can be your own worst enemy, but you’re also your biggest fan. 

Helping relationships. Have someone who helps hold you accountable. Make sure you can take criticism and praise from this person. I personally rely on my husband to help control environments and to push me to be better in many areas. He takes the kids once or twice a week so I can fulfill my professional desire of working. I have a network of people I can call on to babysit when opportunities arise to flex my athletic training muscles during the day. Have a good group of people who can help. Make sure to pay them back or pay it forward!

Incentives. Reward yourself. Set small goals and celebrate when you accomplish them. If I work out every day for a month I will buy myself a new pair of leggings or shorts or shoes. Maybe you go out for ice cream when you maintain a healthy diet for the week. You sign up for a fun road race in a cool location to reward yourself for training. Find some way to reward your hard work.

Mental game. Maintaining habits is a mental game. You have to be strong. As you make personal changes, your psyche becomes stronger and healthier also. We are practicing self control and discipline and only get better when we don’t quit.

Let me say that again: we only get better when we don’t quit.

Here’s hoping you learned a little and can better begin and maintain your New Year’s resolutions past February. 

Or that you are encouraged to try again. 

No matter, keep going, stay encouraged and stay healthy, friends!

For Jessica’s previous posts about fitness, use the blog’s search box, above on the right, and type in Jessica Poole.  To learn more about Gwinnett Medical Center’s complete sports medicine program, including our Running Clinic, visit


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