Are You Really Ready to Change Your Health?

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Depression and other health issues can often coexist with each other, each having the potential to affect the other.  The lack of energy and motivation associated with depression can impact your health by making it more difficult than normal to comply with your doctor's orders and to make positive lifestyle changes which would help your other health issues.  In addition, your other health issues may be contributing to, or even causing, your depression symptoms.  Clearly, there are going to be many cases where changes can be beneficial to both your physical and mental health, but how does one go about making these changes?   I've asked guest author Anne Marie Ludovici to coach us in what it takes to make a successful change in one's health.

There’s more to changing than just waking up and saying, “Today’s the day.” Change is not simply like flipping on a light switch. It’s a meaningful process of transformative self-enrichment. Imagine a room filled with unlit candles — you light one and things begin to emerge. You start seeing things you never noticed before — around you and in you. You light more and more candles until you are bathed in a new, warm glow. You’ve more than illuminated yourself; you’ve illuminated your world. When you discover the art and science of how to successfully change, you will experience that illumination!

While it’s important to embrace your desire to change, the first step is to know just what "stage of change" you are in. Your current stage of change predicts the likelihood of success in your attempts to change more accurately than anything else about you or your situation. In other words, knowing where you stand on the path of change helps increase your awareness, and in turn help, you discover the appropriate steps and solutions to take to ensure success as you begin and move forward on your journey.

There are six stages of change:

  • Pre-contemplation (I’m not ready to change.)
  • Contemplation (I’m thinking about changing.)
  • Preparation (I’m getting ready to change.)
  • Action (I’m actively taking steps to change.)
  • Maintenance (I’m sustaining the change I’ve made.)
  • Termination

Before discovering what stage you’re in, it’s first important to realize that change is very personal.

We all have our own path and progress through the stages of change is neither linear nor the same pace for everyone. This does not mean that progress isn’t being made, but rather that different people face different challenges at different times that are sometimes outside their control. It’s possible to get briefly stuck at one stage or even regress to earlier ones. This is natural and should be expected.  We sometimes self-impose high expectations on ourselves, which may lead to demoralization if we don’t meet, or exceed these expectations.  If we get stuck, have a setback, or don’t see progress in the expected period of time, it’s important to be “self-kind” vs. “self-critical” to maintain our confidence, to continue to move on to long-term behavior change. And knowing in advance that slips, setbacks or relapse may occur empowers us to be prepared to overcome any fear or feeling of failure. Remember that, in many circumstances, baby steps can be giant leaps; and, so long as you never give up, you are making progress!  Change is progress, not necessarily high intensity, sustained action.

The following assessment will help identify the stage of change you are currently in for the personal or health-related behavior you want to change.

Simply and honestly answer “Yes” or “No” to each of the four questions.

Stages of Change Assessment

  1. I solved my personal/health behavior more than 6 months ago.
  2. I have taken action on my personal/health behavior within the past 6 months.
  3. I am intending on taking action on my personal/health behavior in the next month
  4. I am intending to take action in the next 6 months.

Stage of Change and Sample Solution to Progress:

Pre-contemplation:  If you answered "No" to all statements, you are in the pre-contemplation stage. You are not thinking about and have no plans to change your behavior at this point in time.

Sample Solution to Progress: It’s okay not to move forward with plans to change if you aren’t ready. Keep reassessing, and progress only when your “readiness to change” increases.

Contemplation: If you answer "Yes" to number 4, and "No" to all others, you are in the contemplation stage. You are thinking of or have intentions to change “down the road,” but not right now.

Sample Solution to Progress: Make a list of the pros and cons of changing, then weigh the importance of each item listed. Also, make a list of what you consider serious barriers to change and brainstorm solutions. In this stage, it’s important to continue to increase your awareness of the behavior you want to change and increase the pros of changing the desired behavior.

Preparation: If you answer "Yes" only to number 3 and 4, you are in the preparation stage, and preparing to actively commit to change. 

Sample Solution to Progress: Begin to explore options for moving into action. For example, if you are looking to change your physical activity behaviors, visit various health clubs, review options for fitness tracking/technology devices, etc. If you are looking to change your nutrition habits, search for a variety of healthy recipes, seek out nutritionists, etc. The research has shown that those who spend adequate time in the preparation stage achieve the best results and sustain those results. So, don’t jump into action until you feel fully prepared.  Do your homework, and you will increase your probability of long-term success.

Action: If you answered "Yes" to number 2 and "No" to number 1, you are in the action stage, and in the midst of changing your desired behavior.

Sample Solution to Progress: Change doesn’t necessary end with action, so it’s important to continue to work in the action stage to avoid setbacks and/or relapse back to old behaviors. Setting goals, tracking, and journaling at this stage can help you identify potential pitfalls and solutions, and keep yourself on track to successfully move to the maintenance stage.

Maintenance: If you honestly answered "Yes" only to number 1, you are in the maintenance stage, and taking the steps to successfully sustain your changed behavior.

Sample Solution to Progress: Continuous monitoring and early identification and elimination of any potential barriers are critical to staying in Maintenance. Life happens, and if you can adapt, match any life changes to your regular routines, you can, and will succeed at staying in maintenance.

Termination: If you have terminated or permanently changed your desired health behavior for five years or more, you are in the termination stage.

Sample Solution to Progress: Keep on keepin' on; YOU ROCK!

Now that you’ve determined which stage of change you are currently in, it’s important to realize you may not actually achieve the degree of change you desire within the time frame you originally intended. Remember, change is a process and it can take time.  But once you commit to making change happen, it will, because you are your own master of transformation. You are a personal change magician.

Let your magic begin.

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