“New year, new me” …I am certain that many, if not all of you, have heard, said, or tried to act on this phrase at least once in your lifetime. With the turning over of a new year, we are almost obligated to set new year’s resolutions be it get into shape, clean up our diet, save more etc. Naturally, the world of marketing and sales has clocked on to this tradition and has found, “life-changing programmes, the top ten resolution secrets, podcasts, motivational quotes, and books to help set the best resolutions to transform your life, for the very reasonable price of $19.99 plus shipping and handling.”
But the reality is that less than 25 per cent of people stay committed to their resolutions for longer than 30 days, and only eight per cent of those accomplish them (Prossack, 2018). With such grim statistics it begs the question why do we continue the practice year after year? In theory, I think the concept is well-intended; give yourself a start point, set a target, and hopefully achieve it. In reality, however, we fail to consider the science and processes behind goal setting (something we’ve dug into in previous articles) and we fail to consider how complex a process it is to affect change in human behaviour. The latter of which I hope to explain a little within this piece.
In psychology, numerous theories discuss behaviour change, but one of the most renowned is that of the Transtheoretical Model of Behaviour Change (TTM) also known as the Stages of Change Model. First emerging in the 1970s this theory examined why some smokers were able to quit the habit and remain consistent while others were not. The experiments gave rise to the understanding that people do not change behaviours quickly and decisively (quite like a random new year’s resolution). Rather, change in behaviour, especially habitual behaviour, occurs continuously through a six-stage cyclical process (Prochaska & DiClemente 1984).
Going back to why we oftentimes allow new year’s resolutions to fall by the wayside is because we are simply not aware of these stages of behaviour change, what stage we might be at and what it might take to help us move from one stage to the next. It’s also important to note that this process, as mentioned, is cyclical which means that there are possibilities of progression as well as regression between stages.
Now on to the meat of the matter, the stages of behaviour change are as follows:
Precontemplation : In this stage, people do not intend to take action in the foreseeable future (within the next six months). People are often unaware that their habits/behaviours are problematic or produce negative consequences. People in this stage often underestimate the pros of changing behaviour and place too much emphasis on the cons of what it would take to change the behaviour
Contemplation : In this stage, people are intending to start healthy behaviour in the foreseeable future (within the next six months). People recognise that their behaviour may be problematic, and are more thoughtful and practical in their consideration of the pros and cons of changing the behaviour. Even with this awareness, people may still feel ambivalent toward the change.
Preparation (Determination) : In this stage, people are ready to take action within the next 30 days. People start to take small steps toward the behaviour change, and they believe changing their behaviour can lead to a healthier life.
Action : In this stage, people have recently changed their behaviour and intend to keep moving forward with that change. Individuals may do so by adjusting their negative habits or acquiring new healthier behaviours.
Maintenance : In this stage, people have sustained their behaviour change for a while (defined as more than 6 months) and intend to maintain it. People in this stage work to prevent relapse to earlier stages.
Termination : In this stage, people have no desire to return to their unhealthy behaviours and are sure they will not relapse. This stage is rarely reached, and people tend to stay in the maintenance stage.
Not to overly complicate things, stay with me…on top of these six stages, there are also many emotional and cognitive processes that we undergo to move through each of these stages. Authors of the TTM have identified ten:
1. Consciousness Raising (Get the Facts)
2. Dramatic Relief (Pay Attention to Feelings)
3. Environmental Reevaluation (Notice Your Effect on Others)
4. Self-Reevaluation (Create a New Self-Image)
5. Social Liberation Processes (Notice Public Support)
6. Self-Liberation (Make a Commitment)
7. Counter Conditioning (Use Substitutes)
8. Helping Relationships (Get Support)
9. Reinforcement Management (Use Rewards)
10. Stimulus Control (Manage Your Environment).
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