Expert Tips for Moving Beyond Pre-Contemplation


Pre-Contemplation (“I won’t” or “I can’t”)

In pre-contemplation, you’re not yet thinking of adopting a healthy behavior. This occurs for one of two reasons:

  1. “I won’t”: You’re not interested in changing because you do not believe you have a problem.

  2. “I can’t”: You would like to change, but you don’t believe it’s possible for you. Perhaps it’s too complicated. Or, perhaps you’ve tried and failed again and again.

So, if you find yourself in pre-contemplation, what should you do? Here are a few thoughts to explore. You can journal about each of these, or simply just think about how might respond to each of these:

  • Accept that you feel like “you won’t” or “you can’t.” Don’t fight against it. It’s OK and it’s normal. Show some compassion toward yourself. I promise you are not the only person who is at this stage of change for at least one health behavior. Know that you have full control of your life- change or not.

  • If “you won’t,” where is this feeling coming from? Is it perhaps from other people nagging you about what you “should” do? Do you want to make the change for yourself and not be changed because of the opinions of others? If so, good. This change is only for you, not anyone else! You’re in control of your future. You get to make the call.

  • If “you can’t,” think about other areas of your life where you may have felt like you couldn’t do something in the past, but you did it despite that feeling. Or perhaps you’ve tried time and time again, but each time, you feel as though you fail. How did that process work for you? What helped you initiate change at that time? What strengths did you use during that time? What worked well then? What may not have worked so well?

  • Regardless of whether you feel like “you won’t” or “you can’t,” what barriers exist for yourself? Are they real or perceived? Do they feel large or unable to be overcome? Is there fear involved? Can you reframe any of these thoughts or feelings to be more positive or self-accepting? At this point, just notice and become aware of the barriers. There’s no need to strategize about working through them, removing them or fixing them.

  • What are your positive sources of motivation for you in other areas of your life? What is going well for you? How did it get to be that way?

  • Explore what’s most important to you in your life. Why do you wake up every day? What’s your greatest priority in this life?

  • Identify your greatest source of strength. Do you find strength in solitude, in company with others, in prayer or meditation, or perhaps another way? How do you rely on this source of strength on a daily basis?

  • Are there other health behaviors that you feel more ready to change right now? If so, what stage of change are you in with it? Perhaps you’re not considering quitting smoking anytime soon, but you are interested in changing your diet. Focus first on the change that you are furthest along with on the readiness spectrum. This experience can drive your confidence to eventually tackle the ones where you’re earlier on the change spectrum.

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.