Why behavior change is hard - and why you should keep trying - Harvard Health - Deepstash

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Successful behavior change

One potential problem when changing behaviors is that we're too often motivated by negatives such as guilt, fear, or regret.

  • Research found that long-lasting change in behavior is most likely when it's self-motivated and rooted in positive thinking.
  • Studies have also shown that goals are easier to reach if they're specific.
  • You should also limit the number of goals you're trying to reach to prevent overtaxing your attention and willpower.

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Change is a process

... not an event. The transtheoretical model (TTM) presupposes that at any given time, a person is in one of five stages of change: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance.

Each stage is a preparation for the next one, so you mustn't hurry through or skip stages.

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Precontemplation

At this stage, you have no conscious intention of making a change. People in this stage tend to avoid reading, talking, or thinking about unhealthy behavior. However, their awareness and interest may be sparked by outside influences.

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Contemplation

At this stage, you're aware that the behavior is a problem, but you still haven't committed to taking action.

To move on to the next stage, make a list of the pros and cons, then examine the disadvantages and consider how to overcome them: If one 30-minute exercise is too much, how about two 15-minute sessions?

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Preparation

At this stage, you know you must change, you believe you can, and are making plans to do so soon. You've also taken some initial steps.

  • It is important to anticipate obstacles and plan ways around them.
  • Create an action plan with realistic goals. Once you are able to meet them, you can work your way up to more ambitious goals.

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Action

At this stage, you've changed. You are able to face the challenges of life without the old behavior. For example, if stress tempts you to eat, you can use healthy coping strategies such as exercise.

Be clear about your motivation; write down your reasons for making the change and remind yourself daily. Get support.

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Maintenance

Once you've practiced the new behavior for six months, you're in the maintenance stage.

Shift your focus to integrate the change into your life and prevent relapse. It may require other changes, like avoiding situations or triggers associated with the old habit.

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Relapse and recycling are common

The path between stages is seldom straightforward. Most people relapse at some point and recycle through one or more stages, though you usually won't go back to square one.

Every time you relapse, you will learn something about yourself. Next time, you can use what you learned, make changes, and be wiser as you continue on the path.

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