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Steps to success

STACEY COLINO
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FITNESS Here's how to go about becoming a new healthier you

MAP YOUR WAY And make your new habits stick PHOTO: P.V.SIVAKUMAR
MAP YOUR WAY And make your new habits stick PHOTO: P.V.SIVAKUMAR

T his is the moment you've been looking forward to: You're about to jump headfirst into a vigorous campaign to eat less, exercise more, and practise the de-stressing techniques that will make you happier, healthier, and more productive than ever. You've never been more motivated and committed. Ready? On your mark, get set, stop!

Sorry, but there's a good chance you're getting ahead of yourself, according to a revolutionary new theory of change. Only about 20 per cent of people who need to ditch bad habits for good ones are actually ready to do so, says psychologist James Prochaska, Ph.D., co-author of Changing for Good. Before you take your inaugural pre-dawn power walk or mix your first high-protein shake, you must progress through three essential preparatory stages, he says. If you do, you have an excellent chance of making those new habits stick.

Prochaska has identified five key stages of change. In the first, you admit to having a vague sense that you need to alter your behaviour; in the second you intend to do so, but not right now. By the third stage, you're arranging all the details that will kick off the fourth, or action, stage. In the fifth, you maintain your new routines until they blend seamlessly into your lifestyle.

The first three stages, however, require the most mental preparation. Here's how to identify where you are in the process — and take the steps necessary to make your goal a lifelong reality.

Pre-contemplation

You're here if: You have the nagging feeling that you really do need to, say, start exercising and eating better. But delay rules. Where should you start?

Tune in to your excuses. Facing your excuses is the first step toward overcoming them. Tally the benefits of change. If you lost weight you'd lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. You'd also boost your energy, feel more attractive, and fit easily into your clothes. Ask for help. Let your friends know you're struggling with your decision.

Contemplation

You're here if: You know you have to modify your behaviour but don't know how — and you're still afraid of failing.

Educate yourself. Read articles and books about the new habit you want to cultivate. Also, get a reality check from your doctor. Work through ambivalence. Connect your interest in changing with something you value — for example, if dropping 20 pounds means you have more energy to join your husband and kids on their yearly ski trips. Want to start a walking programme someday? Do a test run now by going for a short brisk walk to see how it feels.

Preparation

You're here if: You're ready to undertake the hard work required to, for example, lose weight, shape up, or manage stress better — and you're taking small steps to commit to the effort for at least six months.

Make room for your goal. You may need to reorganise your kids' schedules or delegate certain household responsibilities. Then pencil in cooking, exercise, or meditating on your daily calendar just as you would for a meeting, says Maryann Troiani, a psychologist and co-author of Spontaneous Optimism. Map out a plan and anticipate potential obstacles.

“If you can't write down your plan or explain it to a 10-year-old, you're not ready,” says John C. Norcross, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and co-author of Changing for Good. Take your plan public. Set a start date and clue in family and close friends. Now that you've laid the necessary groundwork, you surely will. So, are you ready? Get set ... Now go!

STACEY COLINO

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