Since I’m in a lull at my new job, I’ve had a little spare time to surf the internet, and I’ve been fascinated by some resources I’ve found on the ‘Transtheoretical Model of Change.‘ Over twenty years ago, several researchers (Prochaska & DiClemente) began investigating the changes it takes to cease an action or habit (e.g. smoking) and the changes it takes to adopt a new habit (e.g. exercise).
Regardless of the behavior change involved, they identified five stages that people go through in the process: (1) precontemplation (2) contemplation (3) preparation (4) action and (5) maintenance. Without going into a long explanation here, the main idea is that once we become aware of a ‘problem’ it takes identifying the pros and cons of trying to overcome that in order to have the motivation to change.
Because I’m a wordsmith at heart, I love some of the phraseology involved. For example, the researchers refer to ‘Self-liberation’ as ‘both the belief that one can change and the commitment and recommitment to act on that belief.’ What a great way to pick oneself up after a difficult slip — recommiting to self liberation! It sounds so much better than getting back on the wagon.
They also mention something that makes so much sense to me — ‘motivation research indicates that people with two choices have greater commitment than people with one choice; those with three choices have even greater commitment.’ In other words, when we have only one choice (seeing things as ‘black and white’ or ‘all or nothing’) we are actually less likely to succeed. What’s really cool (and kind of a relief) is that there is no demonstrated benefit to having MORE than three choices — that is apparently enough for us to feel as though we can cope.
This theoretical model also accepts the fact that people don’t progress through stages in an orderly fashion, but can move back and forth. Fortunately however, once ‘maintenance’ is reached, people are less likely to fall all the way back to pre-contemplation (that is, we might gain some BUT NOT ALL of our weight loss back) and more likely to have the desire to recommit.
And as JuJu, Jane and I have written about many times, a major component of successful change according to this model is to give yourself a break and recognize all different kinds of accomplishments. We need more than a number on a scale, or a mark in our journals. We need to honor the ‘full range’ of our successes and ‘recognize and reinforce smaller steps.’
Its funny, I’d promised myself to post something more action oriented (recipes, exercise strategy, etc.) today, but as I read through this study, I found myself feeling motivated and inspired by the thought process. It IS important to know what to shop for, how to cook, how to order at restaurants, and the like. But its also amazing and exciting to know that what we’re doing here isn’t magic. Its real and its achievable.
And I can always tell you about those trumpet royale mushrooms from Costco another day!