Expert Tips for Taking Action
Action (“I am”)
When you’re in the action stage you’re practicing your new behavior consistently. This stage of change generally lasts for 6 months or more because not only are you practicing the new behavior, you’re also creating a new mindset and building a new habit. You’re in the “I am” stage, as in, I am doing it!
You may have to focus very intently in the beginning on your new behavior in the beginning. You’re likely going to consciously make the choice to do it each and every time. What you’re actually doing by consciously and intentionally making the choice though, is building your brain chemistry to support your habit. Each time you make the choice, the neurons in your brain fire. The more they fire, they eventually wire together to create a new neuronal pathway in your brain to support this new choice. Over time your behavior will become more and more automatic, until eventually it’s your new normal. Your brain can support the change you want to see. Oh, and great news on that front, your brain is capable of growing and changing our entire lives, so it’s never too late to start. Just ask the 60+ year old group of research volunteers who integrated 1 hour of exercise three times per week for 8 weeks in a research study and whose brains actually grew in volume!
What can you do consistently right now? Once you’re consistent doing your chosen behavior, for instance, 2 days per week, you can eventually move to 3 days a week and then up to your target of 5. Start small and build from there. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Research shows that it takes at least 66 days to start to build a habit.
Revisit the section above under Preparation on SMART goals. Refine your SMART goal. You can even make it SMART-ER by continually Evaluating and Readjusting it. You don't have to stay locked into a goal that’s not working for you. When you learn new approaches that work better, use them! Refine your goals. It’s not only OK, it’s ideal to consider how your goals can be structured better than they already are!
Don’t rely on your willpower to ensure that you’re engaging in your new behavior. As Benjamin Hardy, PhD so aptly says in the title of his book, “Willpower Doesn’t Work”, he explains, through a great deal of supporting research, that, rather, restructuring your environment ensures your success. So, if you’re goal is to eat a whole food diet, relying on your willpower to keep from eating the potato chips you see every time you open your pantry, will not work. Eventually, you’re going to have a rough day, feel that salt/fat craving coming on, and BOOM, there goes the rest of the bag. Restructure your environment instead. Don’t even buy potato chips and store them in your pantry. Better yet, place some raw almonds in the place where the potato chips used to sit for a wholesome alternative.
Keep your values, your strengths and most importantly, your vision for health at the forefront of your mind during this time. This helps you to remember your why; why you’re doing this in the first place, as well how you can stay on track using the strengths that come naturally to you. Keeping your values top of mind can also help you realize when you get off track. You might start to feel friction between your path and your values. If that occurs, it might be time to re-evaluate your approach.
Engage in or create new supportive relationships with people who share your values and goals. Research shows that we pick up behaviors from the people we spend the most time with, so ensure you’re creating an environment of success by choosing your company wisely.
Leverage self-compassion. Make sure your self-talk sounds like something you would say to a good friend who’s in the same boat. There will be times where you slip up, when things don’t go as planned or you fall off of the wagon altogether. Lapses happen and will continue to occur. Be understanding with yourself, identify what you can learn from it and start back strong tomorrow. There is no such thing as failure. Ever. There is never a time where you can throw your hands up in the air and give up. This is too important to you. Just dust yourself off and start back strong tomorrow. Consistency over time is what matters when it comes to any healthy behavior.
Perhaps you could benefit from a planned lapse to practice getting back on the horse? Maybe you could schedule a day to go off of your eating plan or a couple of days off of exercise routine? This can help you build new mental strength and practice how you might deal with an actual lapse.
Develop your relapse-prevention plan. What specifically will you do when the time comes that you experience a lapse in your new behavior? Write it down. Put it somewhere for safe keeping. The moment you become aware of a lapse, pull it out and put your plan into motion. Lapses can be physical, emotional, and mental. Your relapse-prevention plan should take each of these areas into account. As part of your relapse-prevention plan, make sure to continue to envision yourself in the future having established this new behavior. This is your best self. What are the rewards and benefits you envision? Reconnect to your original vision for health and your why.
Sometimes, you may need external support to help you see blind spots or identify patterns of behavior that are not serving you. You may need quite a bit of support navigating through each stage of change, particularly if you’ve tried before and not experienced success yet. Health coaches can be an especially important ally to engage for further support, as we are experts in the behavior change process and can support you to navigate through each phase in a way that works best for you. We can help co-create your goals, help you stay accountable and provide the support that’s missing from many of the lifestyle change prescriptions that are given by healthcare providers.
Counselors can be especially helpful if you identify patterns of behavior that hinder you from achieving success in multiple areas or if you are concerned about your mental health. Mental health is a priority when embarking on a lifestyle change program. Sometimes, mental health treatment and behavior change can be done concurrently; however, do check in with your physician or mental health provider on their recommendations in this regard. Coaching can be initiated once you feel as though you have adequate support for your mental health.
Always seek the professional advice from a licensed healthcare provider before engaging in any form of lifestyle change whether eating habits, exercise, relaxation, stress management, sleep, or any other form of lifestyle change.