We’ve heard that joke about how the gyms are empty on 31st December but immediately gets packed on 1 January. The joke is real.
Did you start the year with so much 'oomph' to get yourself fit and healthy again, only to find yourself creeping back to your old ways soon after? We all have that friend who somehow manages to make it to the gym consistently, and we wonder how they do it. They’ve probably been through the five stages of behavioural change and managed to make it to stage five – whether consciously or unconsciously.
Regardless whether you are still charging on strong or whether you are starting to drag your feet, or worse, have completely fallen off the exercise bandwagon, understanding motivation and program adherence can be the determining factor of whether you succeed or not.
Consciously moving through the following five stages will help us to work through any obstacles that could stop us from successfully adhering to our exercise and diet goals, thus increasing our success.
STAGE 1: PRE- CONTEMPLATION
If you are reading this, you’re most likely past this stage. People in this stage are not thinking about starting an exercise program - exercise does not even cross their minds. People in this stage do not see value in being physically active and might not understand the importance of introducing physical activity in their lives.
If you know someone who is in this stage, it is important to validate the fact that this person is not ready to start being physical activity yet, but still sneak in encouragement and information about making positive lifestyle changes.
STAGE 2: CONTEMPLATION
This is the stage where we simply think about and consider starting an exercise regime or making positive changes to our diets. We are not actually exercising or eating healthy yet, but the thought does cross our minds. We start thinking about how a sedentary lifestyle negatively affects us. At this stage, we are not ready to get up and sweaty, but we are contemplating exercise as a possible addition into our lives.
If you are at stage two, weigh the pros and cons of being physically active, and start to identify what you are getting active and/or eating healthy for (i.e. why do you want to make positive lifestyle changes?).
STAGE 3: PREPARATION
People in this stage are mentally and physically preparing to start an exercise or diet regime. You are not completely sedentary – you go for that occasional run, or pop in to the gym or fitness class once in a while, maybe switch up the soft drink for mineral water when the ‘feeling’ strikes.
During this stage, it is crucial to work out a plan, specific to you, that will help you stick with your exercise regime. It could be working out (pun intended) how to fit exercise into your busy schedule, how to create lifestyle patterns that will get you moving, creating a social support system by finding a workout buddy or simply identifying ways to eat healthier.
STAGE 4: ACTION
At this stage, you have been exercising regularly for less than six months, using the plan that you’ve created in stage three. This is the stage where it is extremely easy to lose motivation and stumble back into a sedentary life. Thus, it is important to identify new goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time bound), work towards them and celebrate small victories! Anticipate obstacles such as plateaus and excuses so that you can acknowledge them when they come up and counter them.
STAGE 5: MAINTENANCE
At this stage, you have been exercising regularly for more than six months! Don’t undermine your hard work, but keep a look out for things that might cause you to go back to your old ways (e.g. changes in life such as jobs, relationships and major events). If you do identify anything that could pull you away from your exercise regime, find strategies to maintain your active lifestyle, while balancing out the other areas of your life.
Throughout our entire lives, it is normal for us to move back and forth between stages. We simply need to be aware of the stage that we are in, then move ourselves towards where we want to be and where we identify as the optimal point for our lives.