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New Year, New You: Cement Change with a Science-Based Approach

Want to change behaviors for good? Hardwire healthy habits with this evidence-based approach.

New Year, New You: Cement Change with a Science-Based Approach

Change is never easy, especially when it involves modifying ingrained behaviors.

And change is not just an on-and-off switch. There a few steps that precede real and healthy behavioral changes. These include steps to go through before change can become natural and permanent.

For example, someone is either dieting or not dieting to outsiders. But internally, there are many stages a person goes through before dieting ever begins.

Knowing and recognizing stages of true change help us move forward. It also helps us gain momentum to achieve goals and resolutions. And most importantly, to change our behavior for good!

Transtheoretical Model & Your New Year Resolution

The "Transtheoretical Model" (TTM) is also known as the "Stages of Change Model." It examines how we go through the process of creating change from start to finish in a cyclic fashion.

The model was developed by James Prochaska & C.C. DiClemente. They evolved the model after examining the experiences of smokers who quit on their own with those requiring further treatment. They were interested in understanding why some people were capable of smoke cessation on their own.

The Transtheoretical Model includes 6 stages structured and explained below. Recognizing personal behaviors and how they fit into these stages can help determine and unravel the success of New Year's resolutions.

Stage 1: Precontemplation

The precontemplation stage is when there is no thought of making a change in the future, or in the next six months. People who are precontemplative often do not recognize ramifications of current behaviors. They are also more likely to emphasize the cons over any pros.

If in this stage, encourage rethinking current behaviors. Also evaluate the risks of carrying on current patterns.

If living a sedentary lifestyle, think of the respective consequences. This includes weight gain and weight-related health conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Stage 2: Contemplation

In the contemplation stage, people begin to realize current behavior is "at odds" with the goals aimed to achieve. The pros and cons are weighed, Options start to become investigated the risks and benefits are evaluated. However, they are still ambivalent and not ready to change.

One can recognize being sedentary is not conducive to succeeding in weight goal. Though still uncertain, start identifying barriers that block this change. Also question the "why" and underlying purpose of wanting to change.

Stage 3: Preparation

The preparation stage is also known as the determination stage. And as the name suggests, it is when people are preparing to change.

Like a runner warms up before the race, this warm-up stage is preparation for true change. It may also include experimenting with mini changes.

Example: Write down goals and inspirations linked to the anticipated behavior change. This may include getting a membership to the gym or simply buying a new pair of workout shoes. Small changes towards the larger goal may include increasing daily steps.

Also find an encouraging support group for motivation and accountability. Members of a support group may include family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and online communities.

Stage 4: Action

In the action stage, people have changed their behavior in the last six months. People may exhibit this by modifying problem or addictive behaviors and acquiring new positive behaviors. Changes are also overt, or shown openly and observable.

A gym membership has purchased, and gym times are scheduled into the calendar. These workout "appointments" are treated just as one would visit a doctor or dentist.

Also identify and gift rewards when meeting new goals. For instance, purchase a new set of headphones after a set number of trips to the gym.

Stage 5: Maintenance

In the maintenance stage, people have successfully implemented their new behavior for about six months up to five years. They intend to maintain this change or changes.

They build new goals to help identify situations and triggers that used to be associated with old behaviors.

Workouts are sustained at least three times per week, just as scheduled. However, this also involved strategizing techniques to ensure visits to the gym occurred and continue to occur.

One might overcome the snooze button by setting the phone across the room. Gym clothes may also be laid out and meals prepped to ease a busy morning.

Stage 6: Termination

In the termination stage, people have no desire to return to unhealthy behaviors and certain to not relapse. However, this is often rarely reached and people tend to stay in the maintenance stage.

New Year's Resolution and the Transtheoretical Model Example

So how does the Transtheoretical Model apply to New Year's resolutions? Because change does not happen overnight. Or when the clock strikes midnight and a new year officially commences.

Besides, about 60 percent admit making New Year's resolutions. And only about 8 percent are successful in achieving them!

So before setting a New Year's resolution (perhaps aimlessly), use this model to determine the current stage of change. If made it to the action stage, it is important to build a successful action plan using the acronym SMART. Making SMART goals shows to lead to greater, lasting behavior changes.

Specific: Generic goals may inhibit proper focus and needed efforts to achieve them. So specific goals should be clear and precise, aiming to answer the questions of who, what, when, where, and why?

Measurable: A measurable goal is essential to track progress and deadline setting, ultimately keeping you motivated throughout the process. A measurable goal may identify "how much?" and "how many?"

Achievable: As previously mentioned, your goal should be attainable. Though goals should be challenging, they still should be achievable. Answering, "How can I accomplish this goal?" can help identify resources and tools needed for its achievement. It also surfaces potential barriers that may need to be overcome.

Realistic: Goals should be realistic and within reason. Though big dreams are admirable, it is crucial to stay honest with yourself. Likewise consider all abilities and commitments needed to acquire anticipated goals.

Timely: Goals need target dates and times to keep you progressively moving towards it. A set time frame helps one prioritize everyday responsibilities, keeping desired goals on the forefront. They can also assist in accomplishing day-to-day tasks that align with a longer-term target goal.

Also, one could be in 1 of 6 possible stages of change at any given time. And change also occurs on the individual's on terms. The progression through the stages is ultimately not rushed and varies from one person to the next.

It is normal to cycle between phases. What's more, relapse is possible during any phase, at which point a person would return to an earlier stage. Most commonly, people return to the contemplation or preparation stage as opposed to the precontemplation stage.

With relapses, individuals are often overcome with negative feelings and frustrations. However, the key is to not allow setbacks to overturn motivation towards a set goal.

Re-strategizing and recreating an action plan may be warranted if the behaviors have relapsed. This may include assessing resources and techniques, including what did not work in the past and might in the future.

Use the initially purchased gym membership, for example. One may have skipped exercise too often with a busy schedule and the gym not so close to home. Some effective strategies may include finding a gym that is closer in proximity to either work or home. One may also be willing to invest in a home gym, thus defeating the need for a gym commute.

Ultimately, a health behavior change or New Year's resolution can be successful by using the steps of the Transtheoretical Model!