The Stages of Making Lifestyle Changes

There is more to starting a walking or running program than just heading out the door. Because you are trying to make changes that you hope will become lifelong habits, you will need to lay a strong foundation – your own personal motivation plan. This plan will address your individual needs and help you start and stick with a fitness regimen.

Getting Ready for Change

Changing your actions or incorporating new behaviours such as walking or running into your life can be challenging. There are six stages that most people move through as they try to make regular physical activity part of their daily routine. See if you can identify with one of these stages:

Stage 1: "I wasn't even thinking of starting a walking (running) program – someone else encouraged me." This is the pre-contemplative stage. You are not thinking about or planning to make walking (running) part of your life any time soon. If you are reading this article, you are probably beyond this stage. It is not that you don't want to change; you just may not be aware of how you can benefit. You probably need a little convincing that all this walk (run) stuff is worthwhile!

Stage 2: "It sounds like a good idea, but…." This is the contemplative stage. Now you are beginning to think about starting a walking (running) program some time in the near future. In this stage, you are aware that it would be a good idea and that it would have its benefits. However, you are not sure if you are ready or if the time is right. There always seem to be reasons NOT to start. If this sounds like you, you will need to "challenge" your "buts" and talk back to your excuses. You will need to seize the moment and get ready to make the commitment.

Stage 3: "Tell me more. I am ready to make the commitment." This is the preparation stage. You are planning to make walking (running) part of your life in the very near future. You may be seeking information and joining SportMed RunWalk programs. At this point, you can best help yourself by clearly outlining your commitment, setting your goals and making a plan to achieve these goals. you will need to be wary of getting stuck in this phase (remember that exercise equipment collecting dust in your closet?).

Stage 4: "I am doing it." This is the action stage. You are physically active and have been for the past few weeks or months. You are acting on your goals and carrying out your plans. This stage requires the most commitment and energy. The key here is to continue to celebrate your training accomplishments and reward yourself for each small success along the way. The road is long and after a little while your motivation may wane or your family and friends may stop recognizing your accomplishments. Having a personal motivation plan can help here. At this point, your actions  are more important than ever because you want walking (running) to become part of your routine and to be rewarding in its own right.

Stage 5: "I love it and can't imagine my life without it." This is the maintenance stage. You are regularly active now and have been for more than six months. You are enjoying the process and view your training as an integrated and important part of your life. You have developed solid routines, associations and expectations that will allow you to keep walking (running). Great job! The key is to keep challenging yourself and to find new and interesting ways to keep your motivation up and your interest piqued. Setting new goals is important here.

Stage 6: "Oops." This is the relapse stage. The reality is that most people do not follow a straight path to the "I love it" stage (and even the "I love it" people experience an "oops" sometimes). Somewhere along the way you may experience setbacks or meet obstacles that prevent you from sticking with training. All of a sudden, you may find yourself at an earlier stage of change. You may feel discouraged or see yourself as a failure. This may be the point where you have dropped out or stopped other programs. Don't give up. You are learning a skill. Don't expect immediate success. The reality is that most people revisit the stages at some point, but the strategies for moving through them remain the same. It is important not to become overwhelmed by the setback. You simply need to view your setbacks as minor stumbles on the road, not as outright falls. You can find your footing and once again enjoy the beautiful road ahead.

Do any of these stages sound familiar? Can you identify the stage you are in right now? Once you know your stage, you are ready to develop your personal motivation plan.

Source: The Beginning Runner's Journal. SportMedBC/L. Farres. 2003.