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Breaking Habits--for Good!

Last month we considered the concept of SMART goals. This month, I wanted to mention the flip side of setting goals, that is, clearing out old habits that don't serve you anymore in order to make room for the good stuff.

It can be difficult to change. Why do some people succeed where others fail? Psychologists classically describe change as occurring in 5 stages.

Pre-contemplation. Sometimes we never get further than this stage. For example, I know it's unhealthy to be overweight, but I don't actually think about cutting calories. I might feel fatalistic or hopeless or simply deny that I have a problem. If I do attempt to take action, it may be because my friends or family push me to do it, but my heart isn't in it.

Contemplation. I accept the fact that I have a problem and need to change. I may have some ideas or indefinite plans to take action in the next few months and perhaps even do some research, but I am not really committed to take action. Still, I have turned the first corner. I am more aware of how my bad habit is harming my health and interfering with my life.

Preparation. I start planning a specific course of action and may set a date (not too far off) to start. My belief in my ability to change becomes stronger. If my goal is to exercise more, for example, I might join a gym or buy new athletic shoes or talk to my friends about joining them for daily exercise.

Action. I walk the walk. I start eating at least 5 servings of vegetables a day. I read food labels, shop for groceries more strategically, learned to cook healthier meals, and keep only healthy snacks around. I may well slip back into my old habits, but I remind myself that most people who have successfully changed have also suffered relapses. A relapse is not failure, provided I get back on track.

Maintenance. It may take months or even years, but my new healthy habits now naturally resonate with me. My old cravings occur less and less frequently, and I'm better able to resist them. Junk food may not taste good anymore. I've learned to love exercise. I've learned successful strategies to avoid and deal with relapses, but if I do slip, I have the recovery skills gained from previous stages. I am stronger now!


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