Expert Tips for Moving Beyond Contemplation
Contemplation (“I may”)
When you’re in the contemplation stage, you’re thinking “I may” change. You’re thinking about changing either unhealthy behaviors or perhaps, adopting new healthy behaviors. You still have a fair amount of ambivalence though. You know you need to change and you want to change, but you’re just not sure how or even if it’s possible for you. You’re on the fence, so to speak. But you’re hoping to take some form of action in the next six months.
If you’re in contemplation, give some thought to or even journal about the following:
Recognize that you will have ambivalence about this particular change. It may feel like it will be incredibly difficult, even impossible to succeed with it. And that is completely normal at this point in the change process. You’re allowed to see both sides of the change. In fact, seeing both sides helps you strengthen your motivation to change.
How long have you been thinking about the change? Sometimes, people find themselves stuck in contemplation for years. If this sounds like you, know that you may just not know how to change yet. And that’s the point of this article. I want to help free you from chronic contemplation and show you that progress is possible.
Explore the pros and cons of change. What are the reasons to change? What are the reasons to stay the same? Are the pros and the cons equally balanced, or not? In order to move forward, eventually the pros of making the change will have to outweigh the reasons for staying the same. But know that this takes time!
In order to continue considering reasons for change, can you think of your very best experience with change? Can you imagine yourself after you’ve made the change? What would that look like or feel like? What are reasons that would compel you to behave in the way you desire in the future? What are values you hold deeply and how might this change align with those values? What strengths do you have that you can leverage with this change? What are your hopes for the future and how would this change factor into those hopes? Why is this important to you? The point here is to connect the dots between the exciting possibilities that exist for you and how this change benefits that future.
Create a strong vision for your future based on what you do want for yourself, as opposed to what you don’t want. Revisit your positive vision for health regularly and watch it grow and change over time.
Learn about or connect with people who have made the same change you hope to make. What is their story and what can you learn from it? What worked for them may not work for you, but what could work after hearing from several people who have made the change? What are the gold nuggets you can take away from their experience to contribute to your own? Why reinvent the wheel? Learn from their mistakes too. What would they have done differently if they could do it all over again?
What are the scientific facts about the health benefits of the change you’re trying to make? I assure you, there’s plenty of research out there on any number of lifestyle changes whether related to quitting smoking, eating, movement, sleep, stress or most other health-related behaviors. Good sources of reliable, evidence-based health information are the CDC, Healthy People 2020, Mayo Clinic and Harvard Health.
Goals at this stage can include reading, learning, listening, thinking, talking, discovering and deciding about your intended change.
A stepwise approach can be an incredibly useful in establishing micro-goals in this stage too. For instance, if your goal is to start exercising, but you’re still in contemplation about meeting the exercise recommendations of 150 minutes per week, you may find that building in a 5-minute walk each day or even a few minutes of stretching is totally do-able and builds your confidence to scale up from there later. You may not be ready to tackle the whole goal as envisioned right away, but you can start small. Small successes, with consistency, lead to large victories over time!
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.