Tips for Sustaining Lifestyle Change - Ascension Wisconsin

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Published on May 21, 2014

Tips for Sustaining Lifestyle Change

It’s a given that most people want a healthy lifestyle including exercise and eating right. Have you found yourself embracing change time and time again, but it just doesn’t stick?

Stages of Change

John Schesta, PhD and health psychologist with Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, says it’s important to understand the stages of change:

  • Pre-contemplation: considering a change but not ready
  • Contemplation: ambivalent about jumping in
  • Preparation: determined and motivated 
  • Action: doing it all the way 
  • Maintenance: change is incorporated and you are living it 
  • Relapse: ugh! That’s when things fall apart

At the point of relapse, people either quit altogether or fall back into a previous stage of change. Whether you are getting started for the first time or hoping to get back into the change cycle, Dr. Schesta says it all starts with believing in yourself and your goals.

“You have to really focus on what you want. Set goals then jump in. Remember the Domino Effect: One small change leads to another,” Dr. Schesta encourages. “It is better to start small, than not at all.” 

Strategies to Sustain Change

Here are some strategies you can use to set goals and actually sustain the lifestyle changes you make:

Understand Your Own Motivation

Ask yourself some tough questions:

  • How important is your health to you?
  • What are you trying to prevent or avoid?
  • What do you want to move toward for yourself and your loved ones?
  • What kind of lifestyle do you want to be living in one year? Five years?
  • What are the tradeoffs?

Ink It, Don’t Think It

The best way to ensure your success is to write down your goals and picture success in your mind, and refer back to the goals on a regular basis. Make sure your goals are SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • and Time-bound

For example, I would like to lose five pounds over five weeks, exercise three times a week and limit myself to one dessert a day or week.

Involve Others in Your Success

Dr. Schesta recommends telling others about your goals, especially people who will be supportive of what you are trying to do. It can be helpful to also have someone outside your immediate circle like a coach or therapist, who can help hold you accountable to your goals.

Some people find that short courses with others are motivating and helpful in making a major lifestyle change.

Be Aware of the Nature of Progress

Remember change often comes with three steps forward and one back, so you can expect bumps in the road. Recognize when you are making progress toward the bigger goal, and say positive things about yourself so that a step back is seen as feedback and not as failure.

For example, instead of looking at the one slip up you made, focus on the three things you did right today.

To sustain a lifestyle change over time, it takes persistence and the ability to start again and again if you have a relapse. Understanding that you will likely need to try multiple times is part of a successful plan. Good luck!

Tips for Sustaining Lifestyle Change