When we begin any new project, it makes sense to ask ourselves if we're ready? Before leaving on a road trip, we check that the car is in good working condition, that the tires have air and the tank is full, that we have clothes, money, and an interesting itinerary. This is a simple, obvious example. Sure, there are dramatic and entertaining examples of people who launched themselves into great adventures without thinking or planning and somehow succeeded, but that's probably not how we want to model ourselves.
When the change we're talking about is a change in ourself, we should take the time needed to consider the implications and the commitment that will be required. First, why do we want to change? If those reasons are so clear to us now, why hasn't it already happened; what has been keeping us in our old pattern? Second, if we make the change, what consequences will that have? How will it affect other things and other people in our life? There is a maxim (from Benjamin Franklin) that "failure to prepare, is preparing to fail," and in the case of personal, behaviour change, a good part of the preparation is getting clear on the Why, before we get into the How.
An important insight from psychology in the last 40 years is that change occurs over a series of stages. Changing habits is overcoming the "law of inertia" (Newton's first law), which states "if a body is at rest or moving at a constant speed in a straight line, it will remain at rest or keep moving in a straight line at constant speed unless it is acted upon by a force". What is the "force" that gets us to change our habits?
A smoker who is not thinking about quitting is in a stage called "pre-contemplation". If we were to see into their thoughts we would find that the Pros of smoking (it's relaxing, fun, cool...) are a lot greater than the Cons (unhealthy, expensive, smelly...). To get this person to begin thinking about quitting (which we call the stage of "contemplation") something has to change the balance of Pros and Cons in their thoughts. As the balance tips towards the Cons being greater than the Pros, the person is closer to a change.
But that's not enough to make change happen. In addition to strong reasons to change, we need the belief that the change is not only possible, but within our capacity to make it happen now. Let's unpack that a bit, and use a relevant example to make it more real.
Are you able to change your eating and exercise habits enough to lose 10 pounds? Are you able to maintain those changes to ensure that the 10 pounds stays off for the next 5 years? If you answered differently to the two questions, then you may believe that short-term behaviour changes are easier than long-term changes. Perhaps you think that over time other factors may counteract your efforts (maybe you think your metabolism will slow down in response to the weight loss)...
There is a complicated matrix of thoughts and beliefs in our minds, some conscious and others less so, that determines our motivational state. That's why asking a simple question like "do you believe you can lose weight and keep it off?" is not very informative. To really understand how psychologically ready you are to accomplish this goal, or any other behaviour change goal, we need to dig deeper.
In order to help explore this I created a questionnaire called the Weight Management Readiness Scale, that presents the kinds of thoughts that seem both common and central to this process. This is based on my decades of working with people at all stages of this journey. Please give it a try, but as you do so, be honest with yourself about what you actually believe, not what you think you should say to get the best "score" or what you wish you were feeling.
Click here for the Weight Management Readiness Scale
Best wishes for a safe and successful journey!
Stephen Stotland, Ph.D.
This blog presents some of our ideas about the key issues involved in achieving successful long-term weight control.
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