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Change for the Better
By Claire Marshall, MS, RD, LDN

Claire Marshall, MS, RD, LDNSummertime is a perfect time to start to get active, to start to make the changes you've wanted to make to achieve wellness.

Wellness is pursuing the goal of emotional and physical health, which is an attractive goal for many, but one that often remains elusive. The simple fact is that, for many people, other things get in the way. Wellness goals can include losing weight, eating healthy, being more active, managing your stress, or quitting tobacco.

Everyone has barriers: "My life is too busy!" "I get started, but I can't keep going." "It's boring." "I get discouraged."

These barriers are often legitimate and can be difficult to overcome mainly because most people do not set realistic expectations for themselves. What you have to do is ask yourself: "How important is changing your lifestyle and incorporating wellness into your life?" And, also, ask yourself, "Why do I want to do this?"

The first thing you need to understand is that making any kind of permanent change is not easy. It requires a positive attitude and a switching of perspective. You also need planning, support, and reinforcement. Change doesn't just happen; it occurs in stages and requires some thought. Change is really a systematic process of problem solving and goal-setting.

It probably makes sense to think about the stages of change. Here are all the stages of change:

  • Pre-contemplation
  • Contemplation
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance
  • Termination

How Stages of Change Evolve
During the pre-contemplation period, you may be in denial about the need to make a change, you may not be thinking seriously about it, and may reject help from others. You may even defend current bad habits. During the contemplation period, you start to think more seriously about the consequences of your behaviors, you may start to make an honest self-appraisal and may develop ambivalent feelings about change.

True preparation requires a commitment to change, an honest self-appraisal, and the need to gather information about what you need to do to change behavior. You can take action when you believe in your ability to change behavior, and learn the skills to take steps to make a change. Support is important during this stage.

Maintenance requires the ability to avoid the temptation to return to bad habits. When your bad habits are no longer part of your life and a return to them would seem abnormal or weird, you have reached termination – which means you've successfully made the change.

The Importance of Goals
Remember – be sure your goals are "SMART" goals:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Appropriate
R – Realistic
T – Timely

A specific goal details exactly what you will do, when you will do it, where it will happen, and who it will involve. A measurable goal includes a specific number that can help you be sure whether or not you have met the goal. To make your goal appropriate, it should fit in to your long-term plan for wellness. Your goal should be realistic enough that you feel confident that you have the necessary skills and resources to achieve it. Setting a deadline or a starting date clearly defines exactly when you plan to accomplish your goal.

Overcoming Barriers
Fears about failing can be alleviated by increased confidence. That can come by educating yourself about what you have to do, learning and practicing new skills, and getting encouragement from your friends, family, and co-workers. If you can make people aware of your goals, you can develop a "cheering section" of sorts. You can rely on these people who know what you're trying to accomplish who can give you advice, hold you accountable, or just provide a needed pat on the back.

Another common obstacle is lack of time. When setting a goal, you need to assess how much time you will allow for obtaining your goal and how much time each day or each week you can devote to working on it.

Rewards
Measure where you are when you start and then track your progress. Give yourself short-term goals and then reward yourself for reaching them. Rewarding yourself is important for each small step you take in changing behavior and pursuing lasting changes. This is especially true at the beginning.

Build in encouragement by seeking out the members of your cheering section. Sometimes you just need someone to listen to your struggles or help creating a routine that forces you to be accountable. Remember, there are lots of opportunities for support out there – be it friends, family, coworkers, health coaches, or worksite wellness programs.

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Claire Marshall is a Senior Health Coach at UPMC Health Plan. For more information about health coaching, visit upmchealthplan.com/health/coaching.html.



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