By A.M. Kuska
We have all lied to ourselves about how we’re going to change our bad habits and live a healthier lifestyle. Maybe you told yourself you would drink more water, attain a beach body in time for summer, or start working out. Before you know it, it’s already September, and the only significant weight you’ve lifted is a giant latte to your face.
If this is familiar to you, you’re not alone. According to Harvard University, making healthy habits is something most people do in stages, and you’re likely not going to meet your goal the first time you try. Here are the stages and how they might affect your effort to start a new habit.
Think of this stage as the “before” stage. At this point, you have no plans for changing at all. You might have an excuse already planned for why you can’t make a change. No one in your family will give up meat, so there’s no point in you doing it, or you can’t exercise, you have too much to do. This is the first stage of change.
If you’re going to adopt a lifestyle change, something happens that makes you start thinking about change. Maybe your first child is born, and you start thinking about what smoking will do to their tiny lungs, or you step on the scale and realize something needs to change. Although you start thinking about change, you might not make any changes for months or even years at this stage.
You’ve decided you’re going to at least try to make a change. You start actively preparing to make those changes. Maybe that’s buying nicotine gum or signing up for the gym. Maybe it’s talking to your doctor about a weight loss program. Whatever it is, you haven’t actually changed yet, but you have laid the path to try.
You change. You go to the gym every day, whatever it is you wanted to change, you’ve changed it. You may need a support system to help you through this change, and positive self-talk might also be necessary to get yourself through.
After you have acted on your change for six months, it is now “maintenance.” The habit has been established, and you’re now keeping it up. This is often the hardest part of a permanent change. You may need to avoid doing certain things in order to prevent yourself from getting triggered. You can also still fail at this stage, relapsing into old ways after a few months or even years.
Making changes is hard, and it’s actually normal to fail several times before you succeed. If you have been thinking about making a change, the good news is you’ve already made it past the first stage of change, and are ready to continue forward.
Making healthy changes is difficult, but the science says you can do it—even if it takes you a while.