tarot22We all know January is the time for resolutions and planning.  Are the resolutions milling around in your head realistic?  Do you wish to stop smoking, lose 30 pounds, limit alcoholic consumption?  How do we do this?  Simple right; one step at a time?  In a recent edition of IDEA’s FOOD magazine, M. Cartwright, PhD, RD discussed the “5 Stages of Change” in her article entitled, Realistic Resolutions.  She begins with the ‘Pre-contemplation’ stage.  At this point the person has no intention of changing.  During the ‘Contemplation’ stage we begin to be aware that a change is desireable and we lack the resolve to actually begin to change habits and behavior.  Once we decide to do something, to purchase a club membership, to use a Nicorette product, we have entered the ‘Preparation’ stage.  Even the tag line for Nicorette, “All little wins add up to one big” suggests the complexity of stopping a habit such as smoking.  There are so many factors involved.  Are you a tactile person who has been comforted by the tactile nature of smoking?   Are you a kinesthetic person who enjoys sitting with a cigarette and ruminating?  How can one replace this tactile sensation with a healthy process?  Will using a fake cigarette help?  Later we will discuss cues, routines and rewards.

I have a statement on my desk, “Your Path will reveal itself when you are looking at your life from a different angle.”  Focusing on our habits with a new perspective is very helpful.  Cartwright goes on to describe the 4th stage, ‘Action’, “the person has made specific changes in the past 6 months.”  What takes place in between the ‘Preparation’ stage and the ‘Action’ stage?  Cartwright sites Wee, Davis & Phillips 2005; Grandes et al. 2008 as documenting that “Those who perceive weight as a health risk are more likely to be in the advanced stages of readiness.”  Elevated cholesterol or shortness of breath may be effective motivators.

Beyond the fear factor of disease or disability, beyond having a team of experts designing your lifestyle as in the popular TV show, The Biggest Loser, it comes down to how much faith we have in our own ability to affect positive change in our lives.  Ralph La Forge, managing director of the Duke Lipid Disorder Physician Education Program at Duke University Medical Center, cites “displacement of unhealthy behaviors” as a factor in Self-Efficacy and as a benefit of exercise.  By introducing a new, healthy behavior we can be successful in replacing the habit pattern we want to alter.  Shifting the focus from what I don’t want to what I want is imperative in changing behavior.

Cartwright goes on to describe “Habit Loops”.  “Habits are powerful–40% of daily actions are habits, not decisions” (Wood, Quinn & Kashy 2002).  Discovering the cues, routines and rewards that are associated with a habit is crucial.

Self -efficacy “is the measure of one’s own ability to complete tasks and reach goals” according to Wikipedia.  Albert Bandura published the paper, “Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change,” in 1977.  What are the little wins that combine to make the big win?  And what are the contributing behaviors and attitudes that allow us to maintain our gains?  The 5th and final stage of change is ‘Maintenance’.   Kendra Cherry defines strong and weak senses of self-efficacy in her article, “What is Self Efficacy” in about.com.

People with a strong sense of self-efficacy:

  • View challenging problems as tasks to be mastered
  • Develop deeper interest in the activities in which they participate
  • Form a stronger sense of commitment to their interests and activities
  • Recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments

People with a weak sense of self-efficacy:

  • Avoid challenging tasks
  • Believe that difficult tasks and situations are beyond their capabilities
  • Focus on personal failings and negative outcomes
  • Quickly lose confidence in personal abilities

By focusing on a positive behavior, i.e. going to the club to workout and just doing that.  “By just doing that” and not altering any other behavior; by committing to one new behavior, it makes it possible to displace the old behavior.  I will not have a cigarette until an hour after I workout.  I will include raw kale in my diet everyday.  If I am hungry between meals; I will drink a glass of water.  If I am still hungry, I will reach for a healthy snack such as an apple.  These little choices make a huge difference in the long run.

Cartwright went on to define cues, routines and rewards.  How many times have you heard someone say, “When I get home from work, I reach for….I just need to relax.”  ‘Cue’ is the time of day, ‘routine’ is repeating the action day after day and ‘reward’ is the cigarette or the calorie rich coffee drink or the glass of wine.   Identifying your cues and rewards is the first step.  Will power can be strengthened with use.  The coffee drink may have 500 calories that are preventing you from losing those last 5 pounds.  By changing this one behavior you can create a ‘positive’ reward.  Create a positive habit pattern, i.e. going to the health club before going home.  Assess how you feel, still need to “relax” with that cigarette, that glass of wine?  You win because you have replaced a negative habit pattern and you are making a decision!  What we know and understand has an impact on us.   What I can quantify I can fine tune into concrete lifestyle choices.  Experts tell us that it takes 21 days or three weeks to reprogram a habit, to make it stick.  Be gentle with your self, do not give up.

real face.2

Whispers of the Breath Diva:

I am the author of my lifestyle.  In this moment I can make a positive choice.

I live in my body!  I can create a positive reward for myself right here, right now!