My previous blog post discussed the basic ideas around "readiness". Hopefully, that inspired some people to think about what it means for them, and perhaps they took our Weight Management Readiness Test to give themselves a baseline measurement. In this post I will explore the concept of readiness more deeply, to explain how we can use it to accelerate the process of behaviour change. SPOILER ALERT: if you have not yet taken the test, this would be a good time to do so. Then come back and read on.
To communicate to people about Readiness, it was helpful to find a way to summarize all of the various factors into a single readiness score. The score gives us an overall sense of our current strengths vs. our weaknesses in regards to achieving our weight management goals. However, in summarizing this way we lose some of the more specific information that explains the differences between two people who may have arrived at the same score in different ways.
As it is currently organized, the readiness score ranges from -4 to +4. A score of -4 means that perceived obstacles to change are at a maximum, while confidence in change is at a minimum. Conversely, a score of +4 implies the reverse scenario, with maximum confidence and minimum obstacles. Those situations are perfectly clear. For the -4 person, the task seems quite hopeless at present, while the +4 person sees it as smooth sailing.
The further we move away from the extremes the more ways there are to achieve the same score. For example, a score of 0 means that the individual judges perceived obstacles to be equal to their confidence in overcoming those obstacles. But that same result can occur at all points on the scale: 0 obstacles & 0 confidence, max obstacles & max confidence, or moderate obstacles combined with moderate confidence, all produce a score of zero. It is not clear that these different scenarios are really equal.
The readiness test can be used in two ways, and one is probably more valid and useful than the other. First, we can use the scores to compare people, to judge how ready one person is compared to the average person. The second use of the test is to explore an individual's various ideas about weight management, and to see how those ideas change over time. While both strategies have their place, it is the second that is most useful in a coaching context and can help us get started in the process.
Let's look deeper.
We'll start with the first question on the test. It asks how much you agree with the statement, "It's very important for me to lose weight, but I'm having trouble making it a top priority", on a 5 point scale from disagree completely to agree completely. What is this question getting at? What does it mean to make weight loss a "top priority"? Does it have to be the top priority, or can it just be a high priority? Most people answering the test respond with agree completely or somewhat with this statement. This implies that they feel they will need to put most of their focus on this task. Exactly what they will need to do is not specified. Is it to get on the scale each morning? Is it to take more time in deciding what to eat? Is it taking a walk each day? When we say that achieving a goal requires it to be a top priority, it seems we are saying that it will take a lot of effort, that it will take time and energy away from other activities, and that we will have to sacrifice to achieve this goal. As you can see, there can be a lot packed into the response to this one question. The more we perceive the task as heavy, demanding, costly, effortful, the bigger a mountain we see ahead of us, the less likely we are to get started. Becoming more psychologically ready means deconstructing what it means to prioritize the goal, finding smaller tasks to focus on, to reduce the emotional burden of commitment.
Now let's look at the companion question from the second half of the test. This one asks how confident you feel that you can "Make weight control a top priority", on a 5 point scale from not at all confident to completely confident. What we typically find is that the same person who agreed somewhat or completely that they have trouble making weight management a top priority, now says that the are quite confident or completely confident that they can do so. They're saying it's been hard to prioritize weight control but they are confident they can. Where is the newfound confidence coming from? Is it because they feel something has changed in their circumstances? The time is somehow right? Their mind is more made up? The stakes have changed and the goal is even more important now than it was before? They plan to join a program which they think will provide them the support and direction that will change things? In wondering how these two apparently opposing thoughts can exist at the same time I am not doubting that the person really feels this way. What I think is important is to explore a little deeper beyond the multiple choice responses, to understand why the person thinks this time is the right time?
As we go through the rest of the questions, we get some ideas about what the specific challenges are for each individual. For some it is related to the place of food in their life, for others it's learning to incorporate exercise, and for many it is how to organize this process and how they can persist over the long-term. When we look closely at the responses to each question, we get a picture of the individual's current set of beliefs about weight control. Our goal, like our clients, is to find a formula that works and that does not feel like a huge burden. As their program progresses, clients become more and more "ready," not to begin the journey, but to keep taking steps each day, until it is no longer a question of change, but simply continuing what has become natural, automatic and intrinsically rewarding.
It is this that we wish for all of our clients, and all those who embark on their own journey of self-development.
Stephen Stotland, Ph.D.
This blog presents some of our ideas about the key issues involved in achieving successful long-term weight control.