Changing Habits One Step at a Time

Six steps to heathier living in Reston, Northern Virginia, and Bethesda – let life and wellness coaching and counseling be your guide.

Carlos Durana Ph.D., M.Ac. offers counseling and marital therapy in Reston, Virginia and Bethesda, Maryland.

Making important changes in our lives can sometimes be more difficult than we think.

Lasting changes often occur, not as a result of a single decision to act, but from a series of steps. In counseling, life or wellness coaching, it is not uncommon to see people who say they want to change a particular behavior or problem, but who are not really ready to do it. There may be a hope that a change in circumstances will change the problem, or as is common in couples counseling, there is an expectation that our partner should do the changing; after all it is his or her fault. It has been estimated by researchers that only about 20% of the people seeking to change an unhealthy or limiting behavior are actually prepared and ready to do so.
Many people jump into action without proper preparation, and rather quickly fall back into old modes of behaving. The action step in the process of change is the only one step, and it is preceded and followed by other steps. James Prochaska, in his book Changing for Good, has outlined a model of change composed of six steps; each requiring its own appropriate understanding and support.

Step one: pre-contemplation

In the first step, pre-contemplation, you may have heard numerous times from friends, a spouse, or a doctor that you should make a change. At this point, you are not willing to do anything about it; you are not open to change or even receiving new information from others. The prospect of change seems like “too much work”; the “cons” or costs are overestimated and as a result, they outweigh the “pros” or benefits of changing. For example, if someone tries to talk to you about seeing a therapist, counselor, life or wellness coach, you may change the subject, or even get upset. If you find yourself at this stage, a good task is to think often about the potential value (benefits) that you can expect from changing the behavior. For instance, you may believe that exercise would be good for you, but you are not convinced how the benefit would outweigh the effort required. Educating yourself about the benefits will help you get used to the idea of possibly making a change as well as helping you move to the next stage.

Step two: contemplation

In the contemplation stage, you are now thinking about taking action, but are not yet ready or don’t know how to get started. At this point, the costs and the benefits of change may feel about equal; you are sitting on the fence. Yet, you are open to new information. Individuals in this stage can enhance their motivation for change by gathering new information, exploring new perspectives, and learning from the experience of others who have made similar changes. A counselor, life or wellness coach may be an excellent consideration at this time, too. By connecting to core values, contemplation can enhance enthusiasm and motivation. It is also helpful to spend time thinking and visualizing about what your life will be like after the change – what will you look and feel like? What will you be doing differently? This may also reveal unaddressed needs, obstacles, and worries that may need further exploration and support. All these steps will help you gain confidence in making worthwhile efforts to change. You may realize you need to enhance your skills and knowledge. Reaching out to a life or wellness coach or counselor may ease the transition from contemplation to preparation.

When you’re ready to take the next step, counseling or life and wellness coaching can help you navigate your choices. Dr. Durana is available for consultations in Bethesda, Reston and Northern Virginia.

Step three: preparation

In the third stage, preparation, the benefits now seem to outweigh the costs. You are now ready to take action, and you may have already taken some small steps. This stage is about building confidence and preparing to deal with the challenges and potential obstacles that you are likely to face in making changes. You are now preparing an action plan. Proper preparation and readiness will help you avoid mistakes; the starts and stops of jumping into action too quickly and then stopping can be avoided. It is all too common to see a back and forth which can create discouragement when starting a new diet, exercising, counseling or life and wellness coaching. You are in this stage if you are nearly ready to take your first steps; you are feeling motivated to learn new skills, to receive support, and you are now open to engaging in activities that will move you towards the action step. You are now ready to join a fitness class, a support group, to call a counselor, life or wellness coach and so on. For example, if you want to eat healthier, you now buying good food and clearing out junk food. You are building momentum to go out into the action stage as you do what is necessary to embrace the changes and deal with the obstacles you may encounter along the way. It is now useful to draw up a contract with yourself and set a few simple goals, to develop a plan for the steps you will take along with a contingency plan that will take care of potential obstacles. Making a public commitment with friends and asking for support from friends will help you succeed in achieving your goals.

Step four: action

After preparation for action, you are now taking action steps; it is time to “do it”. The action step is where the self-confidence you have gained in making small preparatory steps is creating a stronger commitment to initiate change. You may have started a coaching or counseling session. The focus should be on progress rather than perfection. Adjustments to your course of action can be made when necessary. You persevere more often in overcoming obstacles that would have caused you to step back or to stop. External support is critical at this point; you will benefit greatly by having others recognize your progress. It is important to acknowledge and reward your ongoing efforts and successes in order to stay motivated and committed. In developing long-term habits, it is vital to keep your eye on the goal. There will be challenges; you may miss a day or two of exercise. You may step back, but keep your eye on the goal, recover and keep going. Self-acceptance is a key to success; visualize yourself succeeding. There may be others who may not like seeing your changes. It will happen, it is an obstacle to overcome; an excessive desire for being liked and accepted can be a problem. In counseling this is a time to explore the sources and factors that maintain the problem or habit. Insights and intuitions may emerge. You are not yet fully successful in stopping the pattern or habit, but as you continue to implement the new behaviors, the desire to change overcomes the desire to stay the same.

Counseling or life and wellness coaching can keep you accountable once you’re in the action phase of change. Let Dr. Carlos Durana keep you motivated while providing the support you need in Bethesda, Reston, and Northern Virginia.

Step five: maintenance

After six months or more of action, you move into the maintenance phase. Your new behaviors seem fairly routine now, and they are more integrated into your sense of identity, life style, and social life. The consistency of your practices at this point increases your confidence and strength. Although lower, the risk of the relapse can be triggered by stress, crisis, major life changes, or even a loss of emotional support. The important thing in preventing shifting back into previous stages is to trust your ability to change and continue with your course of action despite temporary setbacks. By treating obstacles as opportunities to learn and develop new skills and strengths, you will reach a point where the old habits are really in the past.

Step six: termination

After two or more years of maintaining the new behavior(s), you enter the termination stage. Prior to reaching this stage, it is possible to fall back into earlier habits. The tendency to revert back to old behaviors is now completely gone. The changes you have made are now who you are. You are now knowledgeable and skilled enough to apply your learning in new ways, in different contexts, under stress, and you can even help others in making similar changes. New areas of challenge or learning may open before you.

To summarize, the model presented by Prochaska and my own personal and clinical experience suggests that in making change it is wise to see where you are now, to start from there, to prepare to take gradual steps with appropriate support, and to keep going in the direction you have chosen. Any significant progress you make brings rewards, growth, knowledge, and skills.

Ready to make positive changes in YOUR life? With counseling or life and wellness coaching, you can become an even better you. Dr. Durana offers expertise, support and guidance for all life changes and is located in Bethesda, Reston, and Northern Virginia.

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