The first step is always the hardest – tips on starting a successful behaviour change journey!

“Habits are formed by repetition of particular acts. They are strengthened by an increase in the number of repeated acts. Habits are also weakened or broken, and contrary habits are formed by the repetition of contrary acts”

                                                                                                        – Mortimer J Adler.

This quote really hits the nail on the head! When it comes to habits, whether they are good or bad, they become stronger by continually repeating the same action. As they strengthen, they become more difficult to change. And this is where a lot of people get unstuck when it comes to changing their behaviour. In a lot of scenarios, people try to make a change to become a better version of themselves, but they fall back into habits that have formed over the course of many years! 

Change is hard!

To put it simply, behaviour change is hard! I remember back to my time at university. One of my units was all about health behaviour, and to help us understand the behaviour change process, we needed to make a health related change for ourselves. I chose to try and cut down on how much soft drink I was drinking – it was an issue I knew I had but I had never gotten around to changing it. So why not now? I failed to achieve my goal during that unit, but even though I had finished the class and didn’t need to anymore, I wanted to make this change for myself. So I kept trying. And I failed again, and again, and again. Each time it was for a different reason, but each time the outcome was the same – I fell back into my old habits.

And that is the inspiration for this post. I understand first hand how hard change can be, no matter how much we want to make that change and I want to help you achieve your goal. So, have a think about something that you want to change. Maybe it is health related, maybe it’s not. In the end, it doesn’t matter what it is, all that matters is that it is important enough for you to want to change. Thought of something? Great! Then let’s get started.

Are you ready for change?

This is the most important question – are you ready to make a change? Because at the end of the day, if you aren’t ready, it is less likely to work. Before we dive any deeper into this, first we need to briefly mention the stages of change.

The stages of change

People in this phase have no intention of changing. Maybe you have tried before and given up, maybe you are unaware of any problems. Either way, you aren’t considering any changes right now.

In this phase, people recognise that they have a problem and are considering changing. This is the stage we can be stuck in for the longest – “I know I need to change, but….”.  Most people believe that they don’t have the motivation, time or energy to make the change and therefore don’t do anything about it.

Here, we are close to taking action. We have thought about what we might do and have possibly come up with a plan, but just haven’t put it in place yet.

Now we know we need to change, we’ve decided to do it and we have a plan. It’s time to put our plan into action and work to make our change!

In this stage, we continue to implement our plan. We continue to work towards turning our change into a permanent habit. But, this is where we also encounter obstacles and may relapse. So, it’s important that we build strategies to work through these problems.

This is the finish line! Our action plan has worked, we’ve navigated past our obstacles and our new behaviour is ingrained into our daily life. 

So what stage are you in?

To figure out which stage you are currently in and if you are ready for change, it is important to ask yourself a few questions:

        • What do you want? What is your ultimate goal?
        • Do you want to change your behaviour?
        • Why is it important for you to change?
        • What change is the greatest priority at this time?
        • Does this change help you move closer to your ultimate goal?

If you are unsure about any of these questions, it means we are in the precontemplation stage. In other words, you aren’t sure about what it is you want or need to change.

If you know what your ultimate goal is, you do want to change, you know why it is important, if it is a priority to you, and if it does help you move closer to your goal, then you are in the contemplation stage. Now that we know we are here, let’s move towards taking action.

Time to take action!

Before we can meaningfully take action we need to have a plan. This will give yourselves the best chance of success! To prepare for change, we must set ourselves goals. Most unsuccessful goals are vague and open-ended, like “get into shape by exercising more.” The best type of goal is a SMART goal.

SMART Goals

A goal that contains specific details rather than general statements.

“Attend the gym (or complete my home program) each Tuesday and Thursday for 60-minutes, in addition to an Exercise Physiology appointment at Simply Stronger each Saturday”

A goal that has a measurable outcome to determine success.

“Reduce my soft drink intake to one glass each day for the next three weeks”

A goal that focusses on the specific action that needs to be completed

“Go for a run on Saturday mornings.”

A goal that is realistic to achieve.

“Increase my daily walk from 15 to 20 minutes”

A goal that has a time to achieve it within.

“Attend the gym three times per week for eight consecutive weeks, then reassess.”

If your goals meet these criteria, then you have laid a great foundation to make your change from. Alternatively, if you are uncertain about your goals or want some guidance on building effective goals, let us know in the comments below or contact us! We can help you develop effective SMART goals that will enhance your change of successful change!

Now that we have our goals in place, we can take action and put our plan into place. Sounds easy right? Well, don’t forget what we said at the start about this being hard – this is where it can get tricky.

Here comes the hard part

I mentioned earlier that my attempts at reducing my soft drink intake failed over and over again and my old habits kicked in. This is the stage in which this happened – I would make the change initially, but then a couple of weeks in is when my old habits came back. Even now, a few years down the track, I encounter bumps in the road and occasionally slip back into old habits. It is an ongoing challenge that requires long-term maintenance in order to turn our action plan into a habit.

This is where the maintenance phase comes into place, and why it is so important to develop strategies for overcoming the obstacles that you face. Maybe your barrier is related to time, motivation, energy, temptations, work load, stress, fatigue, having overambitious goals, negative mindset or lack of support or even a lack of good guidance? There are many things that can go wrong, but there are many solutions out there!

Now I would love to sit here and give you every solution for every situation. But if I did that, I would never finish this post. It is very specific to you and your goal, the barrier you are experiencing and your circumstances. So, let us know in the comments below what your barrier is and we will respond with some helpful strategies. You never know, maybe someone else reading this post is having the same problem as you! Alternatively, you can contact us and we can help you develop strategies and overcome your obstacles with a face to face, Telehealth or over the phone appointment!

There will be ups and downs!
Be persistent, and don't give up!

We are here to help!

It is never easy to go through the behaviour change process by yourself. As I have mentioned above, you need a good support system around you and may even need some help with developing goals or strategies to overcome barriers. This is something we can help with, as Exercise Physiologists are trained to assist people with their behaviour change journey. We are able to help identify and set SMART goals, identify barriers, set plans to get around these obstacles and provide expert advice on the best way to achieve your goal – especially when it is related to exercise or your physical health! If you would like some assistance, contact us to organise an appointment and start your journey with one of our Exercise Physiologists.

Check out our previous posts!

Keep your eyes open for more posts coming in the near future – there will be a new post every Wednesday!

In the meantime, here are some related posts that may interest you:

And here is a little sneak peek into some posts that will be coming your way over the next few weeks:

      • Exercise for mental health 
      • Breathe easier with exercise. The benefits of exercise for Asthma!
      • A healthy heart needs to exercise!

Also, keep an eye out for our brand new series “How I live strong and prosper”. In this series we’ll be chatting with Simply Stronger clients and finding out what they do to live strong and prosper!

Please leave a comment below if you have any topic ideas that you would like us to discuss!

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References and useful resources

Broadbent, J (2012), HBS110: Health Behaviour, Pearson Australia

Habits for wellbeing, 20 quotes to inspire you to change habits, viewed on 25 August 2020, https://www.habitsforwellbeing.com/20-quotes-to-inspire-you-to-change-habits/ 

Photos provided by Braden Collum, Clem Onojeghuo, Jakob Owens and Hello I’m Nik via Unsplash.com

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