Setting New Year’s resolutions can’t hurt. But they probably won’t help much either. By March, most people abandon their resolutions or at least cut themselves so much slack that they barely make progress.
James Prochaska, a professor of clinical and health psychology at the University of Rhode Island, has developed a six-stage model to guide people to make changes or overcome bad habits. He introduced the model more than 30 years ago and continues to build upon it today.
The six stages begin with what he calls “pre-contemplation.” Identify the benefits of a healthful change in behavior, research what’s to gain and list the reasons that are most relevant to you.
The next stage is “contemplation,” where you acknowledge the obstacles you’ll face and devise strategies to overcome these roadblocks. You might also imagine how good you’ll feel by following through.
In the third stage, preparation begins. You construct a detailed plan with support networks in place and set aside time for behavioral change (such as gym workouts or attending a weight-loss program).
You’re now ready for the fourth stage: action. You announce your goal to friends and family and bask in their encouragement.
Commit to lasting change
As the weeks pass, you acquire a healthier habit by sticking with your plan and gaining the strength to persevere from your supporters. In the fifth stage, maintenance, you lock in your progress and develop strategies to prevent relapse. You may need to update your list of reasons why you want to change your behavior so that you reinforce your will to succeed.
You fully overcome the bad habit with the sixth and last step: termination. That’s when you eliminate the unwanted behavior with finality and visualize sweeping it away for good.