Transitioning from one lifestyle to another takes motivation and tenacity. It requires you to wake up every day and do things differently, to work against the grain of your deeply embedded habits.
When I finally decided I wanted to take action and join a run clinic, it was only after a long period of thought and contemplation. You may already be aware of the five stages of change; I was stuck in the second for a very long time. But if you’re not familiar with them, you may want to read up. The five stages explain a lot about human psychology, and how we approach change—a huge asset when it comes to adopting a fitness routine for the first time. We know from research that although we can offer advice on how to get started, real, lasting change just isn’t possible until a person is ready for it.
Stage One: Pre-Contemplation
In this stage you aren’t yet ready to change your habits, and you don’t yet recognize the patterns you need to break. This stage is also referred to as “denial.” I was in this stage for many years. I thought I was a “free spirit,” and I used this excuse to maintain a reckless lifestyle marked by self-destructive habits.
It’s difficult for others to reach you in the pre-contemplation stage: you aren’t open to the idea of change, and your unwillingness keeps you closed off to new ways of life. At this stage, you may not even know what is possible. You are operating in a state of unawareness.
Stage Two: Contemplation
In contemplation you are willing to consider that changing your behavior might be beneficial, but you are still thinking it through and haven’t yet committed to action.
I know this stage well. I wanted to change for years but didn’t do anything about it until things got unbearable; I waited until I was unhappy enough to be ready. You might be able to relate to this. The contemplation stage is like a tango dance: you move one step forward, one step back, until one day you’re ready to go all in.
Stage Three: Preparation
In this stage you are aware that you need to change. You are ready to do it, but you need to first prepare yourself mentally, and often physically, for the action required. In preparation you may start by calling friends to see if they want to join you in a run program. You may register for a race and purchase the gear: shoes, running tights, a good sports bra. This is an exciting stage, and one I enjoy being in myself. I love researching programs to join, gear to get, races to register for.
Stage Four: Action
It’s go time. The action stage is where the magic happens. At this point, you have worked up the courage to walk out the door and tackle the first day of a new running program. You can lace up your new shoes for the very first time, hit the road and finally start the training program you’ve been planning.
Action feels great, but beware: this stage often has a honeymoon period, and repeated action beyond the honeymoon takes perseverance. Push yourself to keep going, and you will eventually get to a place where you can’t live without action in your life.
Stage Five: Maintenance
Maintenance is continued action. You must continually set goals and update them, check your progress, and tweak your plan. I think about the things I want to accomplish months in advance. At the start of the year I already know what I am training for over the next twelve months and have planned out how to do it. Maintaining a new behavior is the most challenging part of any change in lifestyle. It also requires continued accountability. Don’t let yourself slide back into contemplation when you feel tired or discouraged.
Changing your lifestyle takes perseverance but if you’ve made it to pre-contemplation, then you know you want a new way. Follow that thinking, stay with it and, with some hard work, you will reign like an athlete.
Louise Green founded Body Exchange, a fitness program focused on helping plus-sized women achieve their athletic dreams. Since 2008 Green has coached over a thousand woman, sweating alongside them in their fitness journey. She is the author of Big Fit Girl, a book aimed to challenge the way in which our society thinks about fitness.