Some of you may remember my New Year’s Day post one year ago about going sugar free.
I strategically titled it “Sugar-Free Start to 2012,” since it was a start…at least that wasn’t a lie! 🙂
The intention was to actually carry that out as a lifestyle from that point forward…but even in writing it I knew that I may not be totally ready or even able to cut sugar from my life 100% since we don’t live in a perfect world. Dang. I am happy to say that Jonathan and I made a LOT of progress over the past year and a majority of the time when we are in the “swing of things” and a normal routine, we eat paleo/gluten-free/sugar-free and are exercising 5-6 days per week. We don’t even buy groceries anymore that aren’t in the “no sugar” category unless it’s for a special occasion or day. We juice frequently and love how eating the right things gives us energy and tastes delicious. Who knew Brussel sprouts were so yummy???
Now when we travel or end up in a foreign situation…it’s a whole different story. We haven’t mastered that yet. It’s tough being at the mercy of flights, other people’s food choices, holiday cookies we have emotional connections with, and lack of a schedule. I am sure a year from now we will be even better in handling those scenarios but I am pleased with the progress we’ve made. Not perfect but definitely reasonable and several steps forward.
So, what have I learned in this past year that I want to pass on to all of you doing your New Year’s Resolutions? Some tid-bits that will help you understand how to move through the processes of change and what to anticipate as you travel from the varying stages successfully. Knowing how most people experience change will but you ahead of the game so you can keep plugging along when resistance hits.
Five Stages of Change
Stage One: Pre-Contemplation
If you are in this stage you aren’t even considering a change in your life. This is a comfortable place. You don’t know what you don’t know and ignorance can be bliss at times. People in this stage aren’t seeking new things out and certainly don’t care to know about any bad lifestyle choices they are making…you are in denial that there is any other way to live than the current way things are. Can’t do a whole lot other than wait for something to spark you in this stage to begin contemplating a different life.
Stage Two: Contemplation
I hate this stage. The bomb of truth has been dropped on you(exercise is actually good for you, smoking kills you, a daily prayer life is essential etc.) and there is no going back. Now you know that you know what’s right but you become keenly aware of the cost of change (time, money, no more Hot N Ready pizzas, less sleep so they can make it to the gym or chapel, etc.) This is the stage where you have to grapple with your own humanity and struggle to accept the benefits of change while weighing them against perceived or even actual losses.
Do a LOT of research during this stage. Seek truth out and find people who are nailing what you want to be doing and ask them how they created that certain habit in their life. Read books at the library, watch documentaries, find reasons that support why change is a good thing. Dream about what your life would be like if you made this change…a year from now? five years from now? How would your life be better? Search your heart and write down your own reasons for why this change is desirable.
Stage Three: Preparation
This is a stage of low commitment but definite flirting with change is going on (buying a Stevia sweetener, going on a run once to see how it goes, reading a chapter in a book without a plan to finish, etc.) The decision that change is a good thing is made but now it’s a matter of getting around to it and this stage allows a “slow” start-up as the person starts checking things out and firm up how specific they desire to change.
You have a lot of freedom in this stage since you aren’t technically locked into anything yet. Enjoy this stage and don’t rush it. Experiment with things and continue to research but start trying your new activity on occasion. For example, if you desire to get in shape, before signing up for that half-marathon, go for a run or two…figure out if you even like running. Maybe you end up being into swimming instead but unless you prepare well and look around, you may be missing something.
Stage Four: Action
Change has been decided upon. Ideas have been tossed around. Now it’s time to get a SMART goal drawn up. Many New Year’s Resolutions fail because the steps leading up to this stage are glossed over. People don’t need to become experts in their area of change/growth but they at least need to have a basic foundation and have put in the “prep” work getting familiar with the sacrifices the change will bring. Jumping straight into action is a set-up for failure and disillusionment once a hard day hits. Without having internalized the reasons for change…there won’t be enough energy to keep it going.
The first week or two in the action stage will likely be a bit painful…you are doing something new and it’s going to feel awkward. It’s not a habit and some changes will actually bring some suffering to a certain degree. Maybe you are getting a little less sleep with the new workout/prayer schedule. Or everyone at work is going out for pizza but you have to say “no” and eat your lettuce wraps instead. That’s tough. Journaling about the difficulties can help and also reviewing your reasons you wrote down when you were getting started will give you motivation to keep putting in the hard work.
Stage Five: Maintenance
I’ve heard it said that it takes 30 days to create a habit. This is the goal of any New Year’s resolution. I think it takes a bit longer in all reality though – more like 3 months. That way you have a holiday, a birthday, a season/weather change, and other variables to work the kinks out of the schedule. You are progressively but surely beginning to see this foreign activity as a day in and day out activity. You are creating a habit!
There have been good days and bad days but you have been triumphant in carrying out the new routine. Reward yourself during this stage as you are hitting your goals continuously. This will create increased incentive to keep with it, strengthening your habit.
Stage Six: Relapse
In the relapse stage it’s easy to become discouraged. Often this occurs when you breach your normal routine (traveling, sickness, holidays, busy season at work, babies are born, that “time of the month” arrives, etc.) These events will occur, so just be prepared for them. You will likely derail on the first few encounters. That’s OK. That is where I see myself at with giving up sugar…I’ve derailed for various seasons over the past year for good and bad reasons. I’ve learned my lessons and see myself getting stronger and my desires are internally changing to reflect the strength in my will. I am becoming harder to derail. There may always be an occasional relapse (at least for me with sugar) and I’m OK with that, knowing that internally I am beginning to prefer NOT eating it compared to eating it. Eventually it won’t really be a big deal for me anymore, so having some cookies at Christmas will “breach” my plan but won’t cause a total derail in my health.
Now if you aren’t feeling the internal change and breaching your plan will actually cause a total derail…it’s time to go back to earlier stages (do some research, remind yourself why you are changing, etc.) and fight to stick to the plan. Remember, if you stray from your change too early on before it becomes a habit, you are at risk for abandonment since your committment is still very new.
Now you know what to expect in the different stages as you embark on your New Year’s resolution changes!! Work your way through the stages one by one and be patient with yourself…no one is perfect!
What changes do you plan to make in 2013?